President Trump announced he was disbanding his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Wednesday, citing a desire not to engage in “endless legal battles at taxpayer expense.”
The genesis of the commission was the president’s baseless claim that “millions” of illegal votes had cost him the popular-vote victory in the 2016 election, when his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton won about three million more votes. Neither the commission nor the president ever turned up evidence supporting Trump’s claim, but the panel became a source of controversy as civil-liberties and voting-rights groups accused the body of violating privacy protections and transparency obligations. The panel faced a number of lawsuits from groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the Brennan Center, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, and even a Democratic member of the commission itself.
As my colleague Vann R. Newkirk II wrote in September, the commission was “dogged by allegations that its true purpose is not eliminating voter fraud, but instigating voter suppression.” Critics of the commission pointed to the fact that its appointees included longtime advocates of restrictive voting laws, such as Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, to argue that the panel merely existed to provide pretext for further voting restrictions.
Civil-rights groups celebrated the end of the commission. Dale Ho of the ACLU voting rights project called the panel “a sham from the start.” Vanita Gupta, formerly the head of the Obama-era civil-rights division and head of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the commission was “a political ploy to provide cover for the president’s wild and unfounded claims of mass voter fraud, and to lay the foundation to purge eligible voters from the rolls.” Kristen Clarke, head of the Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights, one of the groups that sued the commission, said the panel was “launched with the singular purpose of laying the groundwork to promote voter suppression policies on a national scale,” adding that its disbanding was “a victory for those who are concerned about ensuring access to the ballot box.”
Rick Hasen, an election law expert and law professor at University of California Irvine, wrote that the commission’s demise was due in part to “the light of publicity and the intense scrutiny the press and many of us gave the Commission. If they were going to provide a predicate for voter suppression, they were not going to be able to do it without a fight.”
There are lingering questions even now that the commission is disbanded. For one, while many states resisted sending their voters’ personal information to the commission, others did, raising the question of what happens to the data that was collected.
“The commission may no longer exist, but what happened to the information?” asked Sherrilyn Ifill, head of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, one of the groups that sued the commission. “That information should be removed or erased, it should not exist in the servers of commission members and officials in the White House.”
Trump’s statement also says that he “asked the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues and determine next courses of action.”
“We will be making some efforts to learn more what directive the Department of Homeland Security has been given with regard to investigating voter fraud,” Ifill said, “and what methods they will use to do whatever work they have been asked to do by the president.”