Responses to a Pence Commission on Voter Fraud

February 15, 2017
posted by Bob Bauer

There seems to be a question of whether the media should provide platforms for Administration spokespersons who regularly use the airtime to disseminate falsehoods. “Truth matters,” Margaret Sullivan writes, and she worries that viewers will come away misled, as some might have last Sunday after Stephen Miller’s appearance in which he repeated the charge of “serious” voter fraud. But Sullivan misses the point that the Administration should be given every opportunity to say what it will on this subject (and others). We might regret that some in the audience, predisposed to believe these claims, may mistake them for facts. But Miller, following Trump, is helping, by speaking, to clarify the nature of this initiative, and it is important that it be understood.

One consequence of clear understanding will be the disinclination of true experts to participate in this process. Few with credibility will be anxious to sign up to validate the work of a Commission launched to validate a conclusion already reached. And, as Miller made clear, this conclusion rests on what “everyone”–at least everyone in New Hampshire–knows. It is hard to imagine who will take this “everyone knows” school of election administration seriously and risk their reputations by enrolling in it.

In the normal case, when a Commission-in-the-making is virtually founded on the rejection of expertise, its bid for respectability would be a long shot. But when its political purpose is plain, because it is the creation of candidates pursuing their own self-interest, it has no hope. The President’s staunchest political allies might stay with him on this, and he can count on groups that thrive on allegations of fraud. In the wider world of administrators and experts, both Democratic and Republican, the prospects of having to engage with this Commission will inspire dread.

This leaves members of this community with a couple of choices.

One is declining to participate: no testimony, no written submissions. The Commission will want to say that it consulted experts around the country. It will be useful in limiting the harms of this project to show that this is not true. By refusing to support the inquiry, community members will be protected against the linkage of their names to the Commission’s work, a connection accomplished by the mere fact of their showing up.

Or now, prior to the institution of the Commission, members of this same community can respectfully and publicly request that the Administration reconsider this ill-fated venture. If the President or Vice President or Stephen Miller, or all, are worried about the quality of electoral administration, they can support the reform program now in progress in state and local governments, supported by nonpartisan nonprofit organizations. Miller seemed entirely unaware of this work in his remarks on ABC about inaccurate voter registration records, and this is not the only part of the story he is uninformed about. Experts around the country can tell that story, the whole story,in disputing the premise of the proposed Commission.

This public case may not be successful in giving the Administration pause. But it would at least help to shape public judgment of the Commission’s purposes and legitimacy; it would become an indispensable part of its history. And it is the only contribution to that history that experts and officials with names to protect and a serious job to do would want to have anything to do with writing.

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