Since 2000, no fewer than three blue-ribbon commissions have been convened after contentious elections to examine what went wrong during the vote and how future elections might be improved. The one that assembles on Wednesday, in a rococo 19th-century office building just steps from the White House, bears no resemblance to any of them. For one thing, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by Vice President Mike Pence, begins public life saddled with at least seven lawsuits challenging its conduct, its transparency and even its reason for being. Two more complaints have been filed with federal agencies against two of the commission’s 12 members. For another, a broad range of experts and ordinary citizens already has written off its legitimacy. They charge that it is less an inquiry into voting fraud and faith in honest elections — its stated purposes — than an effort to bolster President Trump’s baseless claim that illegally cast ballots robbed him of a popular vote victory in November. And they say such an inflated conclusion could give Republicans in Congress ammunition to enact federal legislation curbing the ability of minorities, the poor and other Democratic-leaning groups to register and cast ballots.
The commission’s day-to-day operations are run by its vice chairman, Kris Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas and among the nation’s most zealous proponents of the notion that illegal voting is unchecked. Mr. Kobach has failed to find evidence of that in his state, and experts and academic studies repeatedly have shown that fraud — especially the in-person fraud targeted by voter ID laws — is a minuscule problem. At least three other Republicans on the panel are leading crusaders for tougher restrictions on voting.
“It’s fatally flawed from the design,” said Dale Ho, the director of the voting rights project at the American Civil Liberties Union. “The commission didn’t arise out of concerns about access to the ballot or error in tabulation by voting machines. It emerged out of Trump’s tweet that he won the popular vote. When you know that and the personnel on the commission, you don’t need to know anything else.”