01:22 - Source: CNN
Judge: Voter fraud panel can collect data

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GAO said the work was "within the scope of its authority"

The commission has been controversial virtually since its inception

Washington CNN  — 

The Government Accountability Office will investigate President Donald Trump’s voting commission after a request by Democratic senators, the agency said in a letter made public Thursday.

Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet published the letter he received from GAO confirming the investigation, which the Democrat asked for with colleagues Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker.

The three lawmakers wrote to the government watchdog last week asking them to look into federal funds used to support the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the body’s work on voter participation, what information and methodology the commission is using for its conclusions, how it is protecting any voter information collected and how it is following regulations.

In its response this week, GAO said the work was “within the scope of its authority” and would begin in about five months, based on agency staffing.

Trump ordered the creation of the commission after pledging to work to preserve the integrity of elections. It has been controversial since its inception, which occurred in the wake of Trump making baseless claims about rampant voter fraud during the 2016 election. Experts who have studied election integrity have found that voter fraud is so statistically rare it is virtually nonexistent, though proponents of strict voter verification measures point to a greater potential for fraud than may have been discovered.

The commission is also staffed with controversial figures who have advocated for strict voting measures and have spoken of widespread fraud, including the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The panel is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence.

The group has met twice, and no third meeting has been scheduled. After its second meeting, emails of one of the commission’s hardline members, Heritage scholar Hans von Spakovsky, were released that showed he had demanded the panel not include any Democrats or “mainstream” members in a February message that made its way at least to Attorney General Jeff Sessions. Von Spakovsky was named to the panel months later.

“After my own participation as a member, I’m confident that all the members of the commission are committed to uncovering the truth about election integrity and the other issues present in our election system and developing recommendations to safeguard and improve the voting process,” von Spakovsky said after the email came to light.

The administration has defended the panel as pursuing the integrity of elections and not having a partisan objective.

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.