The White House voting commission is the target of a lawsuit filed by one of its own Democratic members, who claims he’s being blocked from meaningful participation in the panel’s activities.
The remarkable legal action, filed Thursday by Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (pictured), represents perhaps the most stinging rebuke yet to the commission, whose work already is said to be on hold as it deals with a slew of other lawsuits.
“Despite diligent efforts to gain access, Secretary Dunlap has been, and continues to be, blocked from receiving Commission documents necessary to carry out his responsibilities,” the complaint alleges, adding that the process risks becoming a “one-sided, partisan undertaking” in violation of federal law.
Kris Kobach, the leader of the commission and a named defendant in the suit, called it “baseless and paranoid” (see update below).
Weeks before filing the lawsuit, Dunlap already had told reporters he believes he’s being shut out of the commission’s activities.
“It seems like you have the core of the commission — J. Christian Adams, Hans von Spakovsky and Kobach — and then you have the rest of us, who are kind of like mannequins,” Dunlap told Pro Publica last month, referring to three commissioners who are leaders of the conservative movement for restrictive voting laws.
Another Democrat on the commission, Alabama probate judge Alan King, also has voiced concerns about the commission’s approach.
The last straw may have come late last month. On October 17, Dunlap wrote to Andrew Kossack, the commission’s executive director, asking for copies of all communications between commission members or their staff since the panel was created in May, something he says he’s legally entitled to. Eight days later, according to the lawsuit, Kossack responded that he was “consulting with counsel” and “will be back in touch soon.”
The suit alleges that by keeping Dunlap in the dark, the commission is violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act of 1972, which requires that federal commissions be “fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented,” and that they make all records available to the public.
Kossack, who did not immediately respond to a request for comment, is among the defendants named in the lawsuit. Vice President Mike Pence and Kobach, the commission chair and vice chair respectively, also are named as defendants, as the commission itself.
President Donald Trump and commission leaders have portrayed the effort as bipartisan. But the lawsuit call this a ”facade.” It notes that in an email sent before the commission was formed, von Spakovsky argued against including any Democrats at all. The commission currently consists of seven Republicans and four Democrats, after the recent death of one Democratic member.
The lawsuit lists several examples of what it describes as Dunlap being shut out. According to the lawsuit, commissioners were given a heads up of just a few hours before Kobach sent letters to all 50 states in June requesting reams of voter roll data. That prevented Dunlap from weighing in one the move, which turned out to be hugely controversial.
The complaint also alleges that Dunlap received no substantive communications from the commission about either of the two in-person meetings that have been held. It appears from the complaint that at no time has Dunlap been asked to do any substantive work for the commission.
Even before news of Dunlap’s lawsuit, there was speculation about whether the commission would be able to fulfill its mission by producing a report next year on threats to voting integrity. In a series of earlier lawsuits, voting rights and good government groups have accused the commission of violating federal transparency and privacy laws. One Republican commissioner revealed last month that the legal challenges had forced the commission to put its work temporarily on hold.
Opponents of the commission seized on Thursday’s lawsuit to call for the panel to be shut down.
“This sham commission is nothing more than a political ploy to provide cover for the president’s wild and unfounded claims of mass voter fraud, and to effectuate his administration’s plans to purge millions of eligible voters from the rolls,” Vanita Gupta, the president of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said in a statement.
Update, 11/10 10am: Via TPM, both Kossack and Kobach have issued statements in response to the lawsuit.
We are disappointed that Secretary Dunlap has chosen litigation and conflict over working cooperatively and in a bipartisan manner to achieve the important goals of this Commission, which is to ensure confidence in our voting system.
Kossack added that the lawsuit has “no merit.”
Secretary Dunlap’s lawsuit is baseless and paranoid. In it, he complains that he didn’t receive any correspondence from the Commission during the five weeks between September 12 and October 17. He assumes that correspondence regarding Commission business was occuring [sic] but not being shared with him. Dunlap’s assumption is incorrect. I did not receive any such correspondence either. During that period, Commission work was stalled by three things: (1) litigation defending against eight lawsuits filed by groups seeking to stop or delay the Commission’s work; (2) the loss of commission staff due to an unrelated arrest of a staff member; and (3) the traic [sic] death of Commissioner David Dunn during heart surgery. It is not at all surprising that Commission staff were very busy during this period. Ironically, Dunlapa’s [sic] lawsuit is only going to increase the workload faced by Commission staff and Department of Justice Attorneys