by Ta’Lisa Turner-Pitts, CVP Intern
In light of his claim that three to five million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 presidential election, President Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI) to investigate. However, widespread voter fraud is largely nonexistent. According to The Truth About Voter Fraud, a report from the Brennan Center for Justice, most supposed incidents of voter fraud are traceable to other sources such as clerical errors and actual rates of voter fraud run between 0.0003% and 0.0025% of ballots cast.
Therein lies the first problem with PACEI; research shows voter fraud is not a widespread problem, but the PACEI
has a predetermined goal to find millions of fraudulent votes. Why? Claims of voter fraud have been used to support voter suppression tactics and regulations such as strict voter ID laws, the restriction of voter registration drives, purging voter rolls, and reductions to early voting options.
The commission is co-chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, two Republicans who have a lot at stake. Both are planning on running for major offices in the near future; VP Pence likely on the ticket with Pres. Trump for reelection in 2020 and Kobach has already launched his campaign for Governor of Kansas in 2018. Three previous federal elections commissions were each c
o-chaired by a Democrat and a Republican who would not be running for office after their term on their commission. In total, there are 12 members on PACEI, seven Republicans and five Democrats. Therein lies a second problem with this commission; there is not equal representation of both major political parties.
The few Democrats on the PACEI have stated they are unclear on their role. David Dunn (a former Arkansas state representative) and Mark Rhodes (a county clerk in Wood County, West Virginia) have gone on record to say that they are unsure as to why they have been selected to join the commission. Matthew Dunlap, Maine Secretary of State, told news outlets that he does not believe voter fraud is widespread in Maine. Similarly, Judge King, a probate judge who oversees elections in Jefferson County, Alabama, stated Trump has provided no evidence to support his claims of widespread voter fraud.
However, each Republican member has an extensive history of advocating for restricting voting access; Mike Pence has already made up his mind about what the commission will find, since he has defended Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes in 2016. Kris Kobach has advocated numerous voter restrictions, been sued for voter suppression and lost multiple times, and since being appointed co-chair of the commission has been fined for presenting a misleading argument to a federal judge in a voting rights case. In Alabama, Georgia and Kansas, legislators tried to put proof-of citizenship requirements on voter registration on the basis of Kobach’s claim that between 2003 and 2015, 18 noncitizens tried to register to vote. The PACEI’s overrepresentation of a faction that staunchly believes voter fraud is a widespread issue (even though data proves it is not) will result in skewed recommendations that present voter suppression tactics for political gain as necessary to prevent a boogeyman of voter fraud.
Why This Matters To Students
Many students face obstacles when it comes to registration and voting starting with being new to the process itself. These barriers will increase if the commission recommends stricter laws limiting access to voter registration and voting methods when they adjourn. When students go to school they may be registering in a new state that has different deadlines, requirements and processes than what they may be used to. In strict voter ID states, especially in states that don’t accept student IDs, students may struggle to acquire the proper ID. Limits on early voting and absentee voting limit options for students to cast a ballot. Additional barriers on top of the lack of familiarity with the voting process can can sow confusion and discourage participation.