President Donald Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity is conducting a fishing expedition in waters as shallow as they are dark. There is simply no evidence that millions of noncitizens voted illegally in 2016, as Trump has alleged, nor is there any that voter fraud is widespread.
The best way to debunk this conspiracy theory is with transparency – and therein lies the problem. The nation’s voter registration files are an utter mess.
One in eight voter registrations is invalid or inaccurate, according to a 2012 study. That includes 1.8 million dead people still on the rolls and nearly 3 million who are registered in more than one state. There are also noncitizens on the rolls.
Straightening out this embarrassing muddle should be a national priority, but Trump’s commission lacks the credibility and expertise to do it.
Its vice-chair is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who has led a partisan push for strict identification laws for registration and voting. A federal court recently fined him for making “patently misleading representations to the court” after refusing to turn over a voting memo he delivered to President-elect Trump.
Equally problematic, identifying ineligible voters – and avoiding false positives that could disenfranchise properly registered voters – involves a level of technical expertise that the commission has shown no sign of understanding.
So when the commission sent a request to all 50 states for publicly available voter data, it was unsurprising that many Democratic state officials resisted, seeing it as a pretext for advancing ID laws – and for purging voters without proper safeguards. Some Republican state officials, citing states’ rights and privacy concerns, are also refusing to comply.
But state opposition to the commission should not end the discussion of the problem. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 requires states to create “a single, uniform, official, centralized, interactive computerized statewide voter registration list” with a unique identifier for each voters, and to coordinate their lists with other agencies. They’ve done a poor job of it, and it’s clear that more interstate coordination is needed.
In recent years, twenty states have joined a voluntary organization that enables them to share voter information to make it more accurate. It’s a good start, but without federal pressure – and funding – the nation’s voter rolls will remain a mess.
Until they are cleaned up, the potential for illegal voting will continue to exist, and politicians will continue to exploit the issue for partisan advantage. It’s a dangerous game – for both them and their constituents. Democracy depends not only on the integrity of the vote but on the public’s confidence in it.