WASHINGTON (CN) – President Donald Trump on Wednesday questioned the motives of states that have thus far refused to comply with his voter fraud commission’s request for extensive personal voter information, musing “one has to wonder what they’re worried about.”
“There’s something. There always is,” he told attendees at the first public meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
Trump, along with Vice President Mike Pence, promised the commission will operate with no preordained conclusions.
But in doing so the president repeated unsubstantiated claims that illegal votes are canceling out lawful ones.
He also suggested – without citing any evidence to support the claim – that voter irregularities in some states involved “very large numbers of people.”
The president then called election integrity an American issue.
“It’s about the concern of so many Americans that improper voting has taken place, and cancelling out the vote of lawful American citizens,” he said.
During and after the 2016 presidential campaign, Trump said that people approached him to express their concerns about voting irregularities.
“In some cases having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states,” Trump said.
The president established the commission by executive order after claiming without evidence that he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because millions voted fraudulently in the 2016 election. Clinton received nearly 3 million more votes than Trump, who won more votes from the electoral college than his Democratic rival.
Critics say Trump created the panel to help justify his claims of massive voter fraud. Most members of the commission focused their comments Wednesday on ways to protect the integrity of each American’s vote.
The May 11 executive order charges the commission with studying federal registration and voting processes. It asks the 12-member panel to identify laws, rules, and policies that both enhance and undermine American confidence in the integrity of U.S. elections, and to identify vulnerabilities in voting and registration systems that could lead to fraud.
Numerous studies have found that voter fraud does happen, but is rare and statistically insignificant.
However several of the commission’s members – including Hans von Spakovsky with the Heritage Foundation – said that many local elections are decided by a handful of votes, making the issue critical in some cases.
The conservative think tank has compiled a database, which it says is not exhaustive, that documents 1,071 cases of voter fraud, which includes 938 criminal convictions.
That includes cases of impersonation, false registrations, duplicate voting, voting by non-citizens, buying votes, altering vote counts and fraudulent use of absentee ballots.
But the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law says most allegations of fraud are baseless. According to its 2007 study on voter fraud, an American is more likely to be struck by lightning than cast a fraudulent vote.
A more recent review from Stanford University study estimates that just 0.02 percent of votes cast in the 2012 election were double votes, some of which the 2017 study found can be attributed to measurement errors in reporting turnout in voter files.
However commission members devoted a good chunk of their meeting Wednesday to identifying double voters and cleaning up state voter rolls.
Alan King, a probate judge in Jefferson County, Alabama said he was astounded how many people can be registered in multiple states.
“I don’t see where anyone needs to be registered in two or more states, quite frankly,” he said. “I would like for us to discuss that.”
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said the Interstate Crosscheck Program, an initiative he started, addresses that very issue.
It’s easy, he said, to register in a new state but difficult to de-register, which many people don’t think to do before they move.
“It’s an extraordinarily big problem,” he said.
The crosscheck program has drawn heavy criticism for purging duplicate registration records for people with the same name and birthdays.
The 2017 Stanford study also found the crosscheck program is problematic.
“We find their proposed purging strategy would eliminate about 200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one registration used to cast a double vote,” the report’s abstract states.
After an hour of discussion, the commission decided it would focus on cataloguing the number of close elections in the U.S., how best to identify double voting, how to address lack of voter confidence in the process, the pros and cons of automatic and online voter registration, states without voter registration, resources available for prosecuting election crimes, and identifying databases states use to verify voter rolls.
It will also try to identify and gather voter information possessed by the federal government and whether conviction information that disqualifies felons from voting is being shared.
Commission members gave little time to cybersecurity and hacking issues, and looking at vulnerabilities nefarious actors could exploit to manipulate voter systems.
Kobach expressed hesitation for the commission to address this issue, saying that he doesn’t want to give a road map to hackers seeking to breach voter rolls. He proposed, however, that the commission could discuss this in a closed session.
None of the commission members spoke about a need to look at the risk of foreign interference, or how to prevent Russia from meddling in U.S. elections again.
The commission has so far faced a bumpy road, including widespread public outcry and four federal legal challenges in Washington. One of those seeks to block the commission from collecting state voter data the commission requested from states on June 28.
Pending a ruling on a request for a temporary restraining order from the Electronic Privacy Information Center, Kobach told reporters after the meeting that he has asked states to hold off on sending the data he requested.
When asked what would happen if the judge rules against the commission, Kobach said: “That would be certainly a very big impediment to the commission doing its work.”
Calling voter roll data the starting point, Kobach said it would be impossible to assess the validity of voter registrations without it.
Although the commission asked states only for publicly available data, some have balked at having the federal government get the information, which includes full names, addresses, dates of birth, political party affiliation, partial Social Security numbers, elections voted in since 2006, voter status, felony convictions, military status, overseas information and multistate voter registration.
Media reports indicate that some are so uncomfortable with the idea that they have withdrawn their voter registration.
Denver election official Amber F. McReynolds said in a July 10 opinion piece in the Denver Post that she has seen a 2,150 percent increase in withdrawals since July 3, just a few days after Kobach sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia requesting the data.
Kobach spoke to some of those fears after Wednesday’s meeting, saying that the commission does not seek to create a federal database.
“The goal is simply to have the information during the life of the commission,” he said. “We’re looking at the possibility of destroying the data as soon as the commission is over and any time any data is given to the commission, maintaining it in a highly secure fashion.”
Commission staff is now working on a methodology for storing the voter data, and consulting with federal IT experts, Kobach said.
The commission said it intends to have four meetings, perhaps holding some of them outside of the nation’s capital, and would plan to hold the next meeting before October 1.