Donald Trump’s Presidential Commission on Election Integrity had its first public meeting on July 19 amid less than stellar public reception: It’s facing at least seven lawsuits, as well as unwavering skepticism from watchdogs across the nation.
The commission was created to prevent voter fraud and investigate unsubstantiated accusations made by the President that 3 to 5 million people illegally voted during the 2016 Presidential Election. This claim has been widely debunked by lawmakers, experts, and federal courts across the nation.
The Trump Administration’s actions surrounding voting rights indicate that this task force could be nothing more than a ploy to restrict voting rights. The consequences of this commission could ultimately be dire for marginalized communities, potentially disenfranchising them at an unprecedented federal level.
We’re breaking down what this commission is planning to do and how it could affect the most vulnerable:
What exactly is this commission?
The voter fraud task force was commissioned by executive order in May to investigate supposed mass voter fraud in the 2016 election. Vice Chair Kris Kobach so far has asked states to turn in voter data to “enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes,” but has not explicitly discussed what will be done with this information.
Each state is required to keep records of its registered voters in accordance with the Help America Vote Act, but the type of voter information collected and how much is made public is to the discretion of each state. So far, 14 states have refused to comply with the task force’s voter data request.
What we know so far is that the task force wants to create a centralized collection of national voter information to “investigate fraud,” but this move could violate state-specific privacy laws and lay the foundation for voter suppression on a national level.
Why is the commission problematic?
The supposedly “bipartisan” commission isn’t so bipartisan after all: The majority of the group is composed of Republicans who have records of supporting restrictive voting laws that historically affect communities of color.
Kobach himself has notoriously disenfranchised voters in his home state of Kansas by requiring voters to show proof-of-citizenship. He was sued by the American Civil Liberties Union after he barred about 30,000 Kansas citizens from registering to vote because of policy that required people to show a birth certificate or passport to prove citizenship.
According to a public email, Kobach also expressed how he hoped to amend the National Voter Registration Act with a provision that would implement proof-of-citizenship requirements on a federal level. The act currently prevents states from imposing a proof-of-citizenship on new voters and encourages states to streamline the registration process.
The Department of Justice has already sent out its own request for personal voter data from 44 states in a move to potentially force voter purging, which could assist in the Trump Administration’s wider efforts to restrict voting.
How could communities of color be affected?
According to the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund, the task force is founded on the “false premise that Black and Latino voters are more likely to perpetrate voter fraud.” Trump himself has also claimed that much of the supposedly illegal votes in the most recent presidential election were from undocumented immigrants, a claim yet again unsubstantiated.
The commission believes that it can curb fraudulent voting by requiring voters to prove their citizenship. But as research has shown, those that are most affected by these proof-of-citizenship requirements are communities of color, as well as low income, elderly and disabled folks. According to the American Civil Liberties Union, these voters are less likely to have government-issued identification or ready access to proof of citizenship in the first place.
More than half of U.S. states implement voter ID requirements, effectively hindering marginalized communities from rightfully participating in the electoral process, even if they are eligible.
Researchers from the University of California San Diego found that Black and Latino voters who live in states with strict voter ID laws have the lowest turnout in elections. For example, they found that Latino voter turnout was 10.3 points lower in states where a valid photo ID is a required versus Latinos in states where the requirements are lax.
Voter fraud has been proven to be extremely rare, and American lawmakers need to stop using the fight against it as a guise to suppress already disenfranchised voters.
In order to have a truly democratic society, all citizens should be afforded the fundamental right to vote, no matter their racial or socioeconomic background. Lawmakers owe it to their consituents to do all they can to protect every citizen’s right to vote, not suppress it.