In apparent haste, with not all its members appointed, the President issued the executive order establishing the Pence vote fraud Commission. The appointments still to come will add only marginally to an understanding of this Commission’s objectives. As the Order is written, and with the naming of Kansas Secretary of State Kobach as Vice Chair, those objectives are clear, and the outcome not hard to forecast. And yet there are extraordinary features to the Commission, none of them surprising, and none are the result of error or lack of foresight.

Begin with the leadership:

The Chair is the Vice President of the President who has announced that millions of illegal votes were cast in the last election, all against him (or for his opponent). Now Mr. Kobach, as Vice Chair, has joined the leadership ranks as a public supporter of the President’s claims.  He has said that the “White House has provided enormous evidence with respect to voter fraud.” This is untrue.   As for the problem of non-citizen voting, Kobach has asserted that there is a “lot of evidence” of it. This is also untrue. The larger point is that the Vice Chair of the Commission has reached these conclusions long ago, before a day of testimony or an hour of deliberation. What are the chances that this Commission will arrive at judgments contrary to the ones asserted so confidently by the President–and echoed by Mr. Kobach whose bid for national prominence rests on loudly ringing the alarm about voter fraud?

Now, onto the Commission’s purposes:

Its mission is defined mostly by reference to laws, rules, policies or practices that either “enhance” or “undermine” the public’s “confidence in the integrity of the voting process used in Federal elections.” These are the first two of three statements of its purpose, only the third and last of them concerned with actual “vulnerabilities” in voting systems. Right at the beginning, at the core of the mission, is the politics of voter fraud. It can be agreed that “public confidence” in the electoral process is important. But it is also an easy talking point ready for use when a voting restriction is lacking in more substantial support.

We have the seen how this has worked over the years. A virtual cottage industry of voter fraud alarmism has sprung up to shake public confidence in the voting systems. One way to understand the Commission is that it will continue, at the highest-level in the name of the President of the United States, on this course. It will operate to create or compound a problem of confidence that it will then announce it must solve. Its very existence is meant to communicate that illegal or improper voting is a major concern. After all, its Chair is none other than the Vice President of the United States. It can hold hearings to dramatize its point–which is the President’s point.

The Commission is an escalation in the campaign to persuade the American public that their voting systems are failing. It is not intended to bolster confidence, but to undermine it, and on the strength of this program, to advance reforms that are costly, unnecessary and a burden on lawful voting by eligible voters. And it is well understood that those burdens typically fall disproportionately on those populations of voters least able to bear them. It is also the belief of many agitating for these reforms that they will be more beneficial to the electoral aspirations of one political party. (Did not the President say that all the illegal voters in 2016, ostensibly millions of them, cast their ballots for Hillary Clinton?)

It was once said of Richard Nixon that he would chop down a tree, only to stand on the stump and deliver a speech in favor of conservation. This is the “public confidence” politics of the Pence Commission.

And, finally, the response from the election administration community:

As argued here, the Pence Commission has broken with the healthy movement toward nonpartisan, professional collaboration on election administration. It has cast aside the fundamental premise that voting process issues must be considered as a whole, no one challenge of administration isolated from the other, and on the best data available. Just as polling place lines have multiple sources, so should voting security be carefully addressed on the evidence and in relation to the functioning of all the component parts of a voting system. Reforms already underway, such as intra-state collaboration and best practices in the management of registration lists, will deal effectively with concerns about ineligible voters remaining on the rolls and any increased risk of illegal voting. But the Pence Commission splits off and highlights voting fraud, falsely promotes it as a problem of central importance, and hides behind the appeal to “public confidence” to escape the demands of rigorous analysis and sound administration.

This means that the only hope for the Commission to attain respectability is to build a record of consultation with the respectable. And given how the Commission is organized–its leadership, the background of presidential claims, and its disingenuous plan to “enhance” the very public confidence that it is undermining –election administration experts should keep their distance. Or they will be, in a word, used. Their cooperation will allow for the Administration to pretend to have had serious bipartisan support for its work, which can be expected to result in politically charged claims and legislative and other proposals to restrict the right to vote.

One of the named Commissioners has committed to speak up if the Commission turns out to be a “Trojan horse” for delivering any such voting rights infringements. But the Trojan horse was an act of cunning, a deception. The Commission has been set up with its purposes quite openly advertised: it has been positioned within the city gates, to spare it the need to be sneaked in. The members of the community under invasion should retreat into their houses and lock their doors.

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