At the Tuesday meeting of President Trump’s task force on election fraud, members heard a very unusual proposal: Run background checks on potential voters. Even more strangely, that plan was suggested by John Lott, an independent gun researcher who has long opposed federal background checks on gun purchases.
Lott’s logic is simple: If Republicans worry about voter fraud, and Democrats say that voter fraud doesn’t exist, he proposes, then why doesn’t the United States just use the Democrat-approved National Instant Criminal Background Check System to double-check voting rolls?
“If NICS doesn’t interfere ‘in any way’ with people’s constitutional right to self-defense, doesn’t it follow that it would work for the right to vote?” asks Lott’s presentation on his proposal, which he presented at the second meeting of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
Lott is an unlikely pick to testify before the commission, experts told the Washington Post. He’s published papers related to election law, but Loyola Law School election scholar Justin Levitt told the Post that most political scientists don’t consider Lott credible on such issues.
Instead, Lott is likely better known for his theory that the more gun ownership leads to less crime. Several independent studies — including 15 members of a 16-person panel for the National Research Council — have found that “existing literature” doesn’t back up Lott’s theory that right-to-carry gun laws decrease violent crime. But Lott told VICE News that other research has subsequently supported his findings. “I looked at the previous 15 years of NRC reports, prior to the firearms and violence report,” Lott said. “And there’s only one other time that there was a dissent. So if anything, my research got more support.”
Plus, in his work with gun control, Lott’s repeatedly criticized the NICS database. Not only did he once claim on this blog that 99.9 percent of the purchases it flagged as being illegal were false positives, but he also criticized liberals in an August Chicago Tribune editorial for subjecting gun owners to rigorous regulations and fees, yet being outraged by “any obstacles” that could limit people’s ability to vote.
But Lott assured Gardner that his proposal was entirely serious.
Despite Lott’s apparent earnestness, bureaucratic hurdles will likely doom his idea. The word “Instant” might be in the NICS’ name, but in reality, the system can take much longer to run a background check, the Washington Post reported. And while Lott says that states can just pick up the tab on the extra cost of these checks, the Post calculated that it could potentially cost states hundreds of millions of dollars to do so.
This is far from the first time Trump’s voting task force has raised eyebrows. Last week, the group’s frontman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, claimed that 5,000 out-of-state voters cast ballots in New Hampshire in the 2016 election — without credible proof. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also recently sued the task force, alleging that its members were illegally using personal emails to conduct government business.
Of the task force at large, Levitt said, “This is not the group you’d assemble if you were serious about real research into real solutions to real problems with the voting system.”
CORRECTION (Sept. 14, 2:12 p.m.): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Lott had only published one article on election law. He has published several. It also misspelled William Gardner’s name.