Kobach commission set to meet as resistance intensifies

The White House voting commission is set to hold its first in-person meeting Wednesday, as critics of the panel continue to sound the alarm about its work.

The 11am sit-down at the Eisenhower Executive Office Building in Washington, live-streamed on the White House site, will mostly be led by Vice Chair Kris Kobach, the driving force behind the panel, according to an agenda for the meeting.

Outside, voting rights activists will gather in Lafayette Square Park to highlight the risks they say the commission poses to voter access and voter privacy.

The Daily Democracy will live-tweet the commission’s meeting here.

Since it was launched in May, voting advocates and election experts have feared that the commission will be used to lay the groundwork for efforts to restrict voting. A request by the commission late last month for voter information from all 50 states, including Social Security numbers, also sparked widespread concerns about sensitive voter data being made public.

Many states said they wouldn’t comply. And there are reports that some voters are voluntarily canceling their registrations because of privacy concerns.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican, became the latest top election official to push back, writing in a letter to the commission sent Friday that the request “can’t be used effectively to asses the accuracy of the rolls,” since states won’t give the commission non-public data like Social Security numbers.

The panel also has been hit by a slew of lawsuits, some of which already have forced it to retreat.

One, filed by a privacy group, claims the request for voter data violates federal privacy law and asks a federal judge to block it. The commission has said the group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, lacks standing to bring the case. But it has put the data request on hold pending the judge’s ruling, which is expected soon.

A separate lawsuit, filed by the ACLU, accuses the commission of failing to follow a law requiring that federal bodies take steps to assure transparency. In response, the panel has created a website, posted public comments, and disclosed some documents from its first meeting. The ACLU says it’s not enough.

And a legal challenge filed by Common Cause Friday, asks a judge to permanently block the commission’s effort to collect voter data from states.

The latest complaint came Tuesday, when a voting rights group claimed in a letter to the inspector general of the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) that federal law bars Christy McCormick, a Republican appointee to the EAC, from simultaneously serving on that body and on the White House voting commission.

An EAC spokeswoman referred The Daily Democracy’s questions about that claim to the EAC’s inspector general, who didn’t immediately respond*. A spokesman for the commission also didn’t immediately respond.

Also Tuesday, the Center for American Progress, a progressive group, released a report finding that state purges of voter rolls have grown more frequent in recent years. It also found that Kansas’s law requiring documentary proof of citizenship from voter registrants, championed and enforced by Kobach, threatened the registrations of 30,000 people — 14 percent of all Kansas applicants from 2013 to 2016.

Both findings go to the heart of the debate over the commission. As we’ve reported, voting advocates fear that the panel will spur states to conduct purges of their rolls that could lead to eligible voters being removed. And they fear it will recommend weakening federal voting protections in order to make it easier for states to impose similar proof of citizenship laws. In an email exchange made public this week, Kobach told the Trump transition team a day after the November election that he was working on draft legislation to do just that.

As well as being the first in-person sit-down, Wednesday’s meeting will be the first to be attended by two controversial new commissioners, Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams. Both have played leading roles in efforts over the last decade and a half to stoke fear over voter fraud and build support for strict voting laws.

Von Spakovsky, a former lawyer in the George W. Bush Justice Department, recently co-wrote two academic articles arguing for a narrower interpretation of the Voting Rights Act’s protections and in support of states’ right to make laws that disenfranchise ex-felons.

Photo Credit: Eisenhower Executive Office Building, Washington, D.C. (Creative Commons)

 

* CORRECTION: An earlier version of this sentence reported incorrectly that the EAC spokeswoman referred The Daily Democracy to the agency’s general counsel.

 

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