On Nov. 9, I filed a complaint in U.S. District Court in Washington, seeking to obtain the working documents, correspondence and schedule of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. What’s remarkable about my lawsuit is that I’m a member of the commission, and apparently this is the only way I can find out what we’re doing. The commission was formed in May to answer monster-under-the-bed questions about “voter fraud,” but the implicit rationale for its creation appears to be to substantiate President Trump’s unfounded claims that up to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016. Chaired by Vice President Pence, the commission has the chance to answer questions about potential fraud and to highlight best practices to enhance voter confidence in our election systems. Yet it isn’t doing that. Instead, the commission is cloaking itself in secrecy, completely contrary to federal law. Recommendations for changes in public policy — whether you agree with them or not — ought to come through an open, public discussion where any American can weigh in.
As the secretary of state in Maine, I was asked to serve on this 12-member commission by Pence’s office. Although I’m a Democrat, I accepted because I believed that membership would allow me to defend the election process from a position of authority, as a fully informed and engaged participant in the president’s review.
The commission has met just twice, but it’s made some waves anyway. Even before we first convened, a June 28 memo, signed by commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, prompted fury by requesting detailed voter information from the chief elections officers of all 50 states. The Mississippi secretary of state, Republican Delbert Hosemann, invited the commission to “jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” one of many colorful responses. Perhaps more striking is that the memo wasn’t written by staff — it was written by individuals who were later named to the commission but who were working outside of government at the time. The letter went out immediately after our first conference call, indicating that Kobach’s data-gathering effort was underway before the commission formed. But no one told members of the commission that; I learned about it from the press.