In May, President Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate electoral fraud in last November’s election, appointing Vice President Pence as its head. While the president has repeatedly argued that millions of unauthorized voters cast ballots, political scientists have debunked his claims. Experts do believe that the quality of elections in the United States could improve. But the Pence commission is unusual in several ways that may prevent that improvement. Here’s what the United States could learn from how other countries reduce electoral law violations, maintain accurate voter rolls, improve voter registration and ensure that voter’s choices are reliably recorded. The Pence commission’s objective is to evaluate the strengths and vulnerabilities of the voting process. Its first task, however, has been to investigate Trump’s contention that millions of illegal votes were cast last November.
Most electoral commissions are trying to solve problems — long mentioned by journalists, civil society organizations and academic experts — that prevent citizens from voting or prevent their votes from being counted. These include long lines, outdated machines with serious cybersecurity failures and problems that prevent voters from registering (such as malfunctioning electronic poll books). The ones that actually succeed at fixing these problems and easing access to the polls have a few things in common, as we’ll discuss below.
But instead of taking aim at the most widely acknowledged problems in U.S. elections, the Pence commission is checking for bloated registration rolls, trying to find 2016 voters who cast ballots despite being fraudulently registered in more than one state, noncitizens, dead or otherwise ineligible. While experts have found some ineligible voters on the rolls, there’s no evidence that dead people and those who moved out of a state voted illegally.