President Trump’s voter fraud commission has the stated goal of ensuring the integrity of the vote as “the foundation of our democracy.” But, like the buried foundations of a building, who votes and how they vote aren’t easy things to examine. In alleging that there’s widespread voter fraud, commission Vice Chair Kris Kobach has relied on proxies, such as the indirect measure of matching up names in voter registries to identify people registered in more than one state. In the lead-up to the commission’s second meeting last week, he also railed against thousands of New Hampshire voters who registered using out-of-state licenses — which he claimed proved that people were hopping state borders to illegally swing elections. The experts I spoke with said those metrics don’t really measure the existence or risk of illegal voting. In fact, they said, it’s probably impossible to conclusively prove or disprove allegations of widespread illegal voting — though they pointed out that very few cases have ever been found and prosecuted, even as Kobach is aggressively seeking them out to prove his hypothesis of rampant voter fraud.
When Kobach employs these proxies as proof of voter fraud, though, he is implicitly suggesting that changes need to be made to the voting system to protect its integrity, such as ensuring that the same name never turns up on multiple registries and voters never use out-of-state licenses at the polls. But those irregularities exist because of the fundamental American values the commission is dedicated to protecting: You can’t easily and swiftly clean up registry errors without disenfranchising millions of voters. And you can’t set up a uniform, nationalized voter registry in a country whose founding values are based on limited federal control.
The problem with proxies is that they do more to demonstrate the complex nature of American values than they do to prove our elections are rigged.