Kobach commission meeting to focus on perception, not reality, of fraud

The White House’s controversial voting commission is looking to focus at its second in-person meeting on the issue of voter confidence.

The planned approach, detailed in the agenda for the Tuesday sit-down in Manchester, New Hampshire, is in sync with an emerging line among backers of restrictive voting laws: Widespread fraud may not exist, but these laws are still needed to combat the perception of fraud.

The meeting will feature a presentation by John Lott, a conservative social scientist who authored a 2006 report concluding that restrictive voting laws boost the turnout rate by increasing voter confidence.

As we’ve written, supporters of strict voting laws increasingly are focusing on perceptions of fraud, rather than the reality.

“The perception exists that voter fraud is a serious issue, and that perception itself has to be addressed,” one Nebraska lawmaker said this year in explaining his support for voter ID.

But Lott’s study was conducted at a time when no strict photo ID laws were in place. Indeed, its abstract acknowledges: “[I]t is still too early to evaluate any possible impact of mandatory photo IDs on U.S. elections.”

More recent studies, conducted by election scholars with longer track records studying voting and better reputations, have come to very different conclusions. Last year, Charles Stewart III, Stephen Ansolabehere, and Nathaniel Persily—all renowned election administration experts—found that the existence of a photo ID law doesn’t affect the public’s views about fraud, and people actually know little about their state’s laws.

“No one would suggest that public perception of a potentially nonexistent threat would justify relaxing constitutional speech, religion, or criminal rights, for example,” they concluded. “The same should be true with voting. Because public attitudes on voter fraud are unaffected by the stringency of a voter ID law, such laws cannot be justified on that basis.”

Lott will be joined by several other panelists, none of whom are leading names in the election administration field. Kris Kobach (pictured), the commission’s vice chair, will chair the meeting. Kobach chaired much of the first meeting in July, too.

New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a backer of strict voting laws, told a local news station that he was involved in putting together the agenda.

The release of the meeting’s agenda comes as the good-government group Common Cause released a report Thursday, Flawed From The Start, finding that the voting commission falls far short of previous government voting panels in terms of bipartisanship, transparency, and a focus on effective solutions.

The voting commission already has spurred widespread and bipartisan outrage by seeking voter roll data, including confidential information, from all 50 states. Voting rights advocates fear the commission will be sued to lay the groundwork for new state or federal restrictions on voting, and to encourage states to more aggressively purge their voter rolls.

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