TOPEKA —As it faces continual controversy and lawsuits, President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission this week will host what its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said would be the first meeting of significant substance.
Trump created the commission in May and charged it with studying voting system vulnerabilities that could lead to fraud, as well as voter suppression and “other voting irregularities.” It meets again Tuesday in New Hampshire to hear presentations on turnout statistics, public confidence and the security of voting machines, according to the agenda.
The commission has drawn criticism and legal action from voting rights groups since its inception, and some states objected to its request for a trove of voter information. Kobach said he wants to “put facts on the table,” not recommend federal policy changes and brushed off claims that the commission was presenting biased information.
The commission’s second meeting comes with those legal battles active and as Kobach claims to have “proof” that election fraud swayed races in New Hampshire last fall.
Tuesday’s meeting will feature presenters from universities as well as some conservative presenters who favor strict voting requirements.
John Lott, president of the Crime Prevention Research Center, will present his own 2006 study that points to Mexican elections and claims that strict voting requirements actually bolster voter turnout.
Lott said he thought more voters would be willing to show up to the polls if they had more faith in the election system. He said he wasn’t sure whether widespread voter fraud existed, but suggested that voters should get background checks.
“Why not just use that for voters to see whether or not they’re American citizens or not?” Lott said.
In 2014, the Government Accountability Office reviewed 10 studies of turnout in U.S. elections. In five studies, voter ID requirements made no statistically significant difference in turnout. Turnout fell in four of the studies, and one found turnout rose. The same GAO report says turnout fell in Kansas and Tennessee after voter ID laws were put in place.
Tomas Lopez, counsel in the democracy program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, said he feared the commission would “elevate” poor policy ideas.
“This commission sprang from the president’s assertion that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in this election, which we think is dubious,” Lopez said.
Andrew Smith, an associate professor of political science at the University of New Hampshire, said he would be presenting research on voter confidence and voter turnout and that Gardner had asked him to participate. He said New Hampshire’s turnout rate has increased and that policymakers should look at why people vote as a blueprint for increasing turnout. He said he thought there might be isolated cases of voter fraud, but not a significant problem.
Just days before the commission’s meeting, Kobach penned a column for the far-right Breitbart website, claiming “proof” that the U.S. Senate election — and maybe the electoral college vote — in New Hampshire was stolen by voter fraud. He pointed to more than 6,000 voters who registered and voted on election day with out-of-state driver’s licenses and 5,313 who never obtained a New Hampshire license or registered a car.
Later in the column, Kobach says it’s “highly likely that voting by nonresidents changed the result” of the 2016 race for one of New Hampshire’s U.S. Senate seats.
In an interview, Kobach conceded that some of those voters might be legal New Hampshire voters.
“We don’t know for certain yet,” Kobach said. “There’s still more information to be determined regarding those 5,300 votes, but it certainly is very concerning.”
In New Hampshire, voters only have to prove they are domiciled in the state to vote, and out-of-state college students can vote in the state. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, a Democrat who serves on the election integrity commission, said he did not agree with Kobach’s claims but remains on the commission despite calls for him to step down from New Hampshire’s Congressional delegation, according to WBUR radio.
Gardner did not return a request for comment.
Kobach said the commission would also look at the security of electronic voting machines against hacking. According to the Granite State Poll, sponsored by WMUR-TV, and conducted by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center, New Hampshire residents are more confident in paper ballots than electronic voting machines. Smith led the poll study.
Kobach said he thought getting information out there was the “number one public benefit” that could come out of the commission, not new federal regulation. He said, however, that he is just one vote.
“I’m not a fan of lots of federal regulation or federal statutes concerning elections,” Kobach said.