- Ari Bermansenior contributing writer for The Nation and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America.
Voting rights activists are expressing alarm after President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.” Particularly worrying to voting right activists is the selection of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the vice chair of the commission. Kobach has pushed for the strictest voter identification laws in the country and advocated for a “proof-of-citizenship” requirement at the state and federal levels. For more, we speak with Ari Berman, senior contributing writer for The Nation, where he covers voting rights. His recent piece is headlined “Trump’s Commission on 'Election Integrity' Will Lead to Massive Voter Suppression.”
AMY GOODMAN: Voting rights activists are expressing alarm after President Donald Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating a Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The move comes after Trump repeatedly claimed that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in November because between 3 [million] and 5 million people voted illegally. No evidence has ever been presented backing up his claim. On Thursday, Deputy White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders unveiled the plan for the new election integrity commission.
DEPUTY PRESS SECRETARY SARAH HUCKABEE SANDERS: I’d like to announce the president also just signed another executive order establishing the bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. … The commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of federal elections, and provide the president with a report that identifies system vulnerabilities that lead to improper registrations in voting.
AMY GOODMAN: Civil rights groups and several Democratic lawmakers denounced the election integrity commission, suggesting it’s designed to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud as a pretense for new policies that will make it harder to vote—policies such as voter ID laws, eliminating early voting and prohibiting same-day voter registration. Particularly worrying to voting right activists is the selection of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the vice chair of the commission. Kobach has pushed for the strictest voter identification laws in the country and advocated for a proof-of-citizenship requirement at the state and federal levels.
Meanwhile, a new report has called into question whether President Trump would have actually won Wisconsin during the 2016 presidential election without the state’s strict voter ID law. The study, published by the progressive advocacy group Priorities USA, says the law suppressed the votes of more than 200,000 residents, the majority of whom were African-American and Democratic-leaning. President Trump won only about 23,000 more votes than Hillary Clinton in Wisconsin.
Well, for more, we’re joined by Ari Berman, senior contributing writer for The Nation, where he covers voting rights. His recent piece is headlined “Trump’s Commission on 'Election Integrity' Will Lead to Massive Voter Suppression.” Explain why, Ari.
ARI BERMAN: Well, I think it’s—first off, it’s important to note this is not an election integrity commission. This is a voter suppression commission, because there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud to investigate. Everyone who’s looked at this, including Trump’s own lawyers, during the recounts in Michigan and other states, have said that the election was not tainted by fraud. So the only reason to do this and the only reason to announce it this week, other than to soothe Trump’s ego, other than to distract from the news about Comey and Russia, is to perpetuate the myth of voter fraud in order to lay the groundwork for policies that will suppress the vote.
AMY GOODMAN: So, explain what the commission is all about, how it came about, what its history is and what exactly it’s going to do.
ARI BERMAN: So I guess you could say the roots of it happened after the election, when Trump startled everyone by saying that he would have won the popular vote except for the fact that millions of people voted illegally. He has subsequently tweeted this. He subsequently said it. He’s provided no evidence for these claims. And so, it’s an attempt—just like what he said about wiretapping. There was no evidence of it. Then he calls for an investigation. And so, basically, he manufactured this issue. There was no evidence. And now we have an entire presidential commission designed to investigate it. There’s going to be taxpayer money. Some of the heaviest hitters in the Republican Party are part of this commission.
And I think it’s easy to just dismiss it as another laughable thing that Trump is doing to try to distract from the news, but the real worry here is that they’re going to say all of these outlandish things about voter fraud. It’s going to have the veneer of a presidential commission, and then they’re going to say, “Oh, by the way, there’s all this voter fraud, and now we should pass strict voter ID laws. We should pass proof-of-citizenship laws. We should cut early voting. We should purge the voting rolls. We shouldn’t just do it in the states where it’s already happening; we should do it on the national and federal level, as well.” So, the president the United States endorsing a policy of voter suppression is absolutely chilling.
AMY GOODMAN: So, as you said, in January, President Trump called for this major investigation of voter fraud, as he continued to falsely assert he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton because 3 [million] to 5 million unauthorized votes were cast in the election. So, ABC anchor David Muir questioned Trump about those claims.
DAVID MUIR: When you say, in your opinion, millions of illegal votes, that is something that is extremely fundamental to our functioning democracy—a fair and free election.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure, sure, sure.
DAVID MUIR: You say you’re going to launch an investigation into this.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Sure, done.
DAVID MUIR: What you have presented so far has been debunked. It’s been called false.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: No, it hasn’t. Take a look at the Pew reports.
DAVID MUIR: I called the author of the Pew report last night. And he told me that they found no evidence of voter fraud.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Really? Then why did he write the report?
DAVID MUIR: He said no evidence of voter fraud.
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Excuse me. Then why did he write the report?
DAVID MUIR: So, I guess I’m—
PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: According to Pew report—then he’s—then he’s groveling again. You know, I always talk about the reporters that grovel when they want to write something that you want to hear, but not necessarily millions of people want to hear or have to hear.
AMY GOODMAN: So that’s Donald Trump. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach defended Trump’s unfounded claim that millions of people illegally voted, supposedly costing Trump the popular vote. This is Kobach being questioned by reporters.
SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: I think the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton at this point.
REPORTER: What tangible evidence is there that that actually happened?
SECRETARY OF STATE KRIS KOBACH: Well, this is the problem with aliens voting and aliens registering. There’s no way you can look on the voter rolls and say, “This one’s an alien. This one’s a citizen. This one’s an alien.” You—once a person gets on the voter rolls, you don’t have any way of easily identifying them as aliens. And so you have to rely on post-election studies, like the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, where you get data from aliens themselves saying, “Oh, yeah, I voted.” It does appear that aliens do vote in very large numbers.
AMY GOODMAN: That was Kris Kobach back in November, right after the election. Ari Berman?
ARI BERMAN: So, all of the available evidence shows that voter fraud is a very small problem in American elections, and that noncitizens voting is an even smaller problem in American elections, because just think about it, Amy. If you’re a noncitizen and you vote, you’re risking deportation. You’re risking a felony. You’re risking never being able to vote again if you become a U.S. citizen. So, all of these things are a huge risk to somebody. And people who are here either illegally or here legally but are noncitizens, the last thing they want to do is vote and get deported. So, this doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.
Just the numbers that we have show that in the 2016 election, The Washington Post found only four documented cases of voter fraud out of 135 million votes cast. It was 0.000002 percent of total votes. State-based reviews since then have found at most a few hundred alleged cases of voter fraud, not millions. In Kansas, Kris Kobach is the only secretary of state in the country with the power to prosecute voter fraud cases. He’s only convicted nine people of voter fraud since 2014 out of 1.8 million registered voters in that state. He’s only convicted one noncitizen of voting. So, if this problem was as widespread—
AMY GOODMAN: Didn’t that citizen—did they vote for Trump?
ARI BERMAN: There was a different noncitizen who voted in Texas, not knowing that she was unable to vote, because usually this is what it is. If you’re a noncitizen and you vote, it’s usually because you believe you’re qualified, because you have documents like a green card or like a driver’s license, and you believe that you’re part of the political process. And they may ask you at the DMV, “Do you want to register to vote?” And you say, “Yes.” But it’s nothing nefarious here. There was another case of someone who voted twice in Iowa—for Donald Trump—because she believed his claims that the elections were going to be rigged. So, I’m not saying this never happens, but it’s a very, very, very small problem. And usually it’s human error, not some sort of massive conspiracy underway.