President Trump’s commission on voter fraud appears to be struggling to attract A-list talent, at least among Democrats.
The White House announced three new members of the panel late Wednesday: Mark Rhodes, the clerk for Wood County, West Virginia; David Dunn (pictured), an Arkansas lobbyist and former Democratic state lawmaker; and Luis Borunda, a deputy secretary of state for Maryland, and an appointee of Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican.
“Never heard of any of these folks,” Rick Hasen, an election law professor at the University of California, Irvine and a long-time close observer of the world of election administration, wrote on Twitter Thursday.
Of the three, only Rhodes appears to have direct experience running elections — for a county with a population of just 86,000. Borunda’s portfolio in the secretary of state’s office doesn’t include elections, according to his bio. And Dunn appears to have focused mostly on economic and tax issues.
“No disrespect but there are many significantly more qualified election practitioners from whom [to] choose, but who would likely say no,” Michelle Shafer, a senior adviser on elections technology for the Council on State Governments, wrote on Twitter.
The appointments come after a chorus of independent voting experts has denounced the commission as a bid to lay the groundwork for restrictive voting laws, and has urged election experts not to participate. The Democratic National Committee this month announced an alternative commission aimed at countering the White House panel.
Reached by The Daily Democracy, Dunn said he’d learned of the appointment last night via the White House announcement, after interviewing with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice chair and apparent driving force. Dunn said he was recommended to Kobach by Arkansas Secretary of State Mark Martin, a friend.
Asked about his qualifications for the high-profile post, Dunn pointed to his six-year tenure as a state lawmaker representing a rural district in eastern Arkansas, which ended in 2010.
“I’ve just been involved in the process,” Dunn said. “We’re kind of a small state, so I’m pretty familiar with access to polls.”
Dunn said he saw how reforms like the increased availability of absentee ballots and extended voting hours and days increased access to the ballot for his mostly poor constituents. By contrast, Kobach has made his name on voting issues as a zealous hunter for fraud and illegal voting, even though all the evidence suggests it’s not a significant problem.
Asked about the panel’s expected focus on illegal voting, Dunn said: “I hope that’s not the only thing the commission focuses on.”
On Thursday, the two Democrats already on the commission, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner and Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, called in comments to The Boston Globe for the panel to focus on attempted Russian hacking of voting systems. In response, Kobach said the topic wasn’t included in the commission’s mandate, “but if it’s something the commission wants to discuss, we can.”
Speaking to the Daily Democracy, Dunn added that he had some concerns about signing on to the panel, given the differences in how he and Kobach come at the issue. Ultimately, though, he decided it’s better to be part of the process.
“If you’re not at the table, you’re on the menu,” Dunn said.
“I made pretty clear that I’m not a ‘yes’ guy,” Dunn continued. “I feel that they want this commission to have integrity. Whatever we come up with, they want it to be fact-based.”
But he added: “I may call you in two months and say I was wrong.”
The commission’s membership so far appears less qualified than that of the voting commission created by President Obama in 2013. That panel included officials from Clark County, Nevada and Maricopa County, Arizona, which have populations of 2 and 4 million respectively. It also featured top executives from Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, the consulting firm Deloitte, the Kennedy School at Harvard University, and the New York Public Library.
The White House commission may get input, however, from another source: a conservative advocacy organization that backs strict voting laws. On Wednesday, the Public Interest Legal Foundation released a report on voting policies which it said was intended to contribute to the White House panel’s research, though it later said it’s not advising the commission in an official capacity. The authors of the report included Hans von Spakovsky and Christian Adams, both leaders of the controversial conservative push to draw attention to illegal voting.