Demand for voter rolls shows ugly truth about Trump's voter fraud commission

Story highlights

  • Joshua Douglas: Trump's voter fraud commission is a sham
  • It will make the public think there is a problem where none exists, Douglas says

Joshua A. Douglas is a law professor at the University of Kentucky College of Law who specializes in election law, voting rights and constitutional law. He is the co-editor of "Election Law Stories." Follow him on Twitter @JoshuaADouglas. The opinions expressed are his own.

(CNN)If we need any further evidence that President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission is a sham, we can find it in its request for all 50 states to turn over exceedingly detailed information on its voter rolls, without any apparent justification.

The vice chairman of the commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sent a letter to all 50 states requesting the state's publicly-available voter rolls, including such personal information as the last four digits of someone's Social Security number and "information regarding military status."
Joshua A. Douglas
In the abstract, matching voter rolls with other available data may not seem like a bad idea. After all, we all want accuracy in our voter registration information.
    The problems come about when one looks deeper into Kobach's history, which I'll discuss in a moment, and which offers some blunt clues about his true motivations.
    To begin, the information he's seeking will reveal what we know already -- that some voter registration rolls are bloated -- and not much else. The voter databases include extra people for a particularly innocuous reason: Individuals die or move quite frequently.
    But there is no evidence whatsoever that outdated voter lists lead to any kind of voter fraud. Simply put, dead people, or those who have moved, do not vote illegally in any significant number.
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    In addition, election data experts -- notably lacking on this commission -- know that simply comparing large lists of voters will not provide useful information because of the number of false matches. The well-known "Birthday Problem" shows that it is somewhat likely that two people with the same common name -- say, John Smith -- will also share a birthday. The fact that two different state voter rolls might list this same name is not evidence of voter fraud.
    Yet those who peddle the rampant voter fraud canard have been looking for evidence to support their theories, all in an effort to justify ever-stricter voting laws. They cannot find any widespread voter fraud, so they use issues of bloated voter registration rolls as their evidence. But that proves nothing beyond the reality that states need a better way to update their voter rolls.
    This is exactly what Trump's Commission on Election Integrity is positioning itself to do, as well: use evidence of voter registration anomalies to promote strict voting rules that make it harder for some people to vote.
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    Indeed, we already know that one of Kobach's main policy goals is to repeal the National Voter Registration Act, also known as Motor-Voter, which makes it easier to register to vote. He also supports strict proof of citizenship requirements for registration that make it harder for some people to vote -- with zero corresponding "integrity benefit."
    Seen in this light, it seems obvious why Kobach has requested detailed voter data from all 50 states, and why almost half the states, like Virginia and Kentucky, are rightly refusing to comply. Setting aside the privacy concerns (of which there are many), this information will provide nothing useful while laying the groundwork for the commission to peddle its theories of massive voter fraud.
    The public should not be fooled. If Kobach and his commission were serious about improving our election system, his integrity panel would be truly bipartisan, much like President Barack Obama's Presidential Commission on Election Administration was four years ago. The co-chairs were Obama's main election lawyer and Mitt Romney's main election lawyer, and the commission came up with unanimous, bipartisan solutions to our nation's election woes, offering practical solutions to reduce long lines.
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    If Trump's commission were a serious endeavor, it would include top election experts from both sides of the aisle. For the commission itself to have integrity, it must look at the ways states make it harder to vote for no good reason, such as through strict voter ID requirements that serve no purpose other than to drum up concerns of voter fraud, harming actual voters in the process.
    If this commission were genuine, it would consider ways to make it easier to vote and enhance the election system, such as through automatic voter registration or by increasing early voting opportunities.
    Instead, Trump's voter fraud commission has one purpose, represented even in its name: the Commission on Election Integrity. It will focus solely on "integrity" so that the public thinks there is a problem where none exists.
    That approach will lead us backward, not forward, in the effort to promote and protect the right to vote, the most fundamental right in our democracy.