The first meeting of President Donald Trump’s supposedly independent voter fraud task force featured a surprise guest: President Trump.
While federal law dictates that the commission shouldn’t be influenced by the president, Trump’s visit was largely ceremonial. His remarks, however, raised the curtain on Wednesday’s meeting and contradicted comments from commission co-chairman Vice President Mike Pence about the “fact-finding” goals of the bipartisan group.
Since his election, Trump has made no secret of his belief that 3 million to 5 million “illegals” voted, which he has repeatedly claimed cost him the popular vote. During his brief remarks, Trump reiterated the claim, with some heavy innuendo.
Voter fraud, he said, is carried out by “some large numbers of certain people, in certain states.” And as for the 14 states that are refusing to comply with the voter data request from Kris Kobach, the commission’s deputy chairman, Trump said: “For those that don’t want to share, what are they worried about?… There’s something. There always is.”
But according to Pence, the commission is a bipartisan group of “fact finders” who haven’t made up their minds about whether voter fraud is a problem. During the meeting Wednesday, he said the group had “no preconceived notions or preordained results.”
On the other hand, Trump — who touts his devotion to preserving the “sacred integrity of the ballot box” — didn’t appear particularly open to the possibility that voter fraud is not a widespread issue. (That’s the view held by election experts across the board; according to a study from the Brennan Center, you’re more likely to be struck by lightning than voter fraud to happen.)
“I look forward to the findings,” Trump said. “The full truth will be known and exposed, if necessary, in the light of day.”
In light of Trump’s comments, Justin Levitt, elections expert at Loyola Law School, isn’t buying the fact-finding mission that Pence described.
“The president came out and announced his firm and unshakeable belief that individuals were voting illegally in large numbers,” said Levitt, who served as deputy assistant attorney general in the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division. “This is a commission that was set up from the get-go to find facts to fix their pre-ordained conclusions.” He also noted that, despite the attention paid to bipartisanship, the first four speakers at the meeting were Republicans. And Kobach, a diehard voter fraud truther, is leading the commission.
Of the 12 members of the commission, five are Democrats, including Alabama probate judge Alan King and New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner.
“I informed them that there was not any voter fraud in Jefferson County, and there has not been any voter fraud for 30 years or more than that,” said King, who also underscored states’ need for more money to upgrade aging voting technology.
The commission is off to a rocky start as the target of seven federal lawsuits and concerns from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle about its intended effect on voting rights.
“Given [Kobach’s] history, I would expect a process where all views are not given robust consideration,” Levitt said. “Regardless of what individual commissioners think, if they say things that align themselves with Kobach’s beliefs, I’m sure he’ll be all too willing to cite them.”