Documents obtained by Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap shed light on the inner workings of the now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI).
American Oversight has been representing Dunlap in his ongoing lawsuit to force the commission to provide him with copies of key documents. Dunlap served on the commission but was illegally shut out of participating in its work.
Late last year, a federal judge ruled that Dunlap could not be excluded from commission work and that he had a right to access the same information shared with other members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI). On July 18, after another round of court battles, the Trump administration turned over more than 8,000 pages of records to Dunlap.
Today, Secretary Dunlap released his preliminary review of those records, revealing that the PACEI had uncovered no evidence of widespread voter fraud, directly contrary to statements by the White House and PACEI Vice Chair Kris Kobach.
“After months of fighting to enforce the law, Secretary Dunlap has revealed that President Trump’s blue ribbon commission on voter fraud was exactly what the public feared: a thinly-veiled effort to ratify the president’s absurd claim that millions of illegal votes were cast in 2016,” said Austin Evers, Executive Director of American Oversight. “The commission did not find evidence of widespread voter fraud and the White House lied to the public when they claimed it did.”
Secretary Dunlap’s report is available here. Several of the key findings from the documents released today are below:
According to the records, multiple commissioners had an interest in mining data from government agencies in an attempt to find cases of voter fraud. In November 2017, J. Christian Adams, a Republican member of the commission, emailed all members and suggested asking the Department of Justice (DOJ) for information on “un-prosecuted” election crimes and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for data from citizenship applications
Christy McCormick, another Republican member of the commission, went even further than Adams in suggesting data-mining tactics. In addition to voter data held by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and its component agencies, including USCIS, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Customs and Border Protection (CBP), McCormick proposed extracting data from state DMVs, the IRS, jury records, private ancestry and credit databases, and even information on immigrant children in public schools from the Department of Education.
The documents also show that the commissions leadership was in contact with DHS, including an August call between commission co-chair Kris Kobach, commission staffers from Vice President Mike Pence’s office and Gene Hamilton, then a top DHS immigration staffer.
Republican commissioners also often shut Dunlap and other Democrats out of the commission’s work. Most notably, conservative members of the group edited the commission’s requests for state voter rolls without including Democratic commissioners. Vice President Mike Pence’s aides included only Kris Kobach, Hans von Spakovksy, and J. Christian Adams in discussions about broadening the commission’s request to states for voter information. Previously released documents show the plan was always to exclude Democrats. In an email, commissioner Hans von Spakowsky expressed alarm at the very idea that non-Republicans might get to participate [https://www.nytimes.com/2017/09/12/us/voter-fraud-panel.html].
Though Democratic commissioners were excluded, von Spakovsky and Adams both edited a letter to federal clerks requesting information—even though neither had yet been appointed to the commission at the time.
In another case, a Pence aide provided Kobach with data on what he alleged was improper same-day voter registration in New Hampshire, suggesting that the data could explain the narrow margin in the 2016 Senate race in that state. The data was not shared equally with other commissioners. Kobach went on to use the data in a column for Breitbart, alleging that voter fraud swung of the results New Hampshire’s 2016 Senate race.
On August 30, 2017, shortly after he had left his role as White House Chief Strategist, Steve Bannon emailed Kobach an article about legal battles over the commission’s records disclosure, writing simply “WTF.“
The records Secretary Dunlap obtained are important for what they show about the true work of President Trump’s voter fraud commission — and also for what they don’t show. Despite the president’s wild claims — both before he created the commission and after he shut it down — the group uncovered no new evidence of widespread voter fraud.
An incomplete draft of the commission’s final report included an outline of a section clearly intended to contain the voter fraud evidence the commission planned to uncover. That section included items such as “improper voter registration practices” and anecdotal “instances of fraudulent or improper voting,” but had no actual content.
From the beginning, the PACEI was criticized for being a thinly-veiled effort to ratify President Trump’s false claims that millions of illegal votes were cast during the 2016 election, accounting for his loss of the popular vote. It also appeared to be a vehicle to give official approval to widely-discredited evidence of voter fraud. Despite these concerns, Secretary Dunlap agreed to serve on the Commission because he felt, as a citizen and as a Secretary of State, he could help bring balance to the work. Unfortunately, Secretary Dunlap found he was unwelcome, his appointment a fig leaf of balance on a skewed, partisan endeavor.
Fortunately, the law says that’s not just wrong but illegal. The federal government represents all Americans regardless of party affiliation or ideological persuasion. Our laws enshrine that principle by requiring official commissions, like the PACEI, to include balanced viewpoints–Republicans and Democrats–and for each member to have an equal say in commission business. The laws protect the public from political actors using official commissions to give fringe or partisan views the imprimatur of official sanction.
The PACEI experience reveals why the law exists. Without a method to fight his exclusion and expose the bias at the heart of the commission, the public might be willing to accept the White House’s statement in January that the PACEI had uncovered widespread evidence of voter fraud. But Secretary Dunlap fought to enforce the law and, as a result, we now know that those claims are false. The public can draw its own conclusions about why the White House lied.
Part of Investigation: