Opinion

Opinion: Democracy — With Big Brother in the Voting Booth

Trump election panel tries to validate his fantasies about voter fraud

Voters arrive to cast their ballots at Cheyenne High School in North Las Vegas on Election Day in November. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call File Photo)

Some Americans believe in small government — until they don’t.

Remember the conservative mantra, “government is the problem?” Well, toss out that way of thinking for a group of leaders — some elected, some appointed — who want to create a complicated new arm of government bureaucracy, one that reaches into how and how often a person votes and sucks up a chunk of your Social Security number for good measure. And we’re paying for this?

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was formed, one suspects, with an end goal in mind — to stroke the ego of the president of the United States by validating his fantasy that millions of folks impersonating other folks, many of them noncitizens, showed up at the polls, skewing the results and tossing the popular vote win to Hillary Clinton.

Talk about a sore winner.

Reports, studies, data and evidence have proved repeatedly this is not a rampant problem, or a problem at all. Nevertheless, those who routinely decry government waste and abuse of power are embarking on this demoralizing and destructive wild-goose chase.

There is certainly no consistency in when and how elected officials deem whether state or federal power is appropriate. In disagreements over Medicaid coverage in Senate and House health care proposals, Republican plans favor block grants because, after all, states know best.

But when it means controlling the narrative and perhaps the power over which citizen should or should not vote, the GOP administration endorses Big Brother looking over every American’s shoulder.

Where is the ‘integrity’?

If the goal of the commission were truly a search for the “integrity” its name plainly states, perhaps somewhere on the list would be more digging into election meddling by Russia, and putting measures in place to ensure it never gets worse or happens again, especially with midterms looming in 2018. But when, as it has been reported, President Donald Trump doesn’t seem convinced, despite the word of every U.S. intelligence agency that this is so, and may not think it necessary to bring it up in his upcoming face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, why would his administration’s hand-picked panel care?

And what a panel it is. Chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, it is co-chaired by Kansas Secretary of State and gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach, whose name is synonymous with purging the rolls of voters he doesn’t approve of, using whatever justifications possible, if not plausible.

One favorite device is finding duplicate names across state lines and eliminating valid voters, when the mistake is usually caused by folks moving and the paperwork being slow to catch up. As someone who has a pretty common name, with two other folks in my local pharmacy close enough for mix-ups, that thought is particularly scary. And unlike many citizens who are elderly, poor, students or minorities, I have the license, passport and other documents to prove I am indeed the person I say I am.

Since the letter also asks for data including “information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information,” I’m sure Kobach would turn up my twin in Guam if needed.

If Kobach and Co. wanted to make it easier for all eligible citizens to vote with confidence, they would ask states what their needs are, instead of starting with stern demands.

No matter the party affiliation, officials and all voters should be particularly anxious, in this time of hacking and identity theft, about personal information being shared with a national body few trust. And with Kobach’s trail of shenanigans and closeness to Trump’s agenda, there is no reason to blindly follow or believe good intentions promised with a smile.

Bipartisan balking

Some Americans believe in states’ rights, until they don’t.

In a sign that both Republican and Democratic election officials of both parties take their responsibilities and citizens seriously, a majority of states have balked at fulfilling all of the commission’s requests, citing the law and their own policies on releasing personal information.

On this list are secretaries of state who refuse to even entertain the notion, such as California Democrat Alex Padilla, whose state is Trump’s imagined voter fraud crime scene. Alison Lundergan Grimes of Kentucky, a Democrat who failed in her own 2014 Senate bid, told MSNBC there was “not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible.” And there was Mississippi Republican Delbert Hosemann, never a Trump fan, who said, “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” In a statement, Hosemann said, “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

In Kobach’s own Kansas, state law forbids the public release of Social Security numbers.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center this week sued to stop the information collection. So, who knows what will happen next?

We do know, however, how the president feels.

“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL,” he tweeted over the weekend. “What are they trying to hide?”

Will a threat to get his Justice Department involved follow his trip to Europe, during which, I am sure, he will extol the benefits of American exceptionalism to all who would listen?

While many are arguing about this new voting commission, the House Administration Committee is renewing Republican efforts to eliminate the bipartisan Election Assistance Commission. The agency was established as part of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, signed by President George W. Bush, after the 2000 elections shone a light on confusing and often outdated voting systems across the country. Thomas Hicks, the commission’s chairman, said the move to phase out the agency is “seriously out of step with the current U.S. election landscape.”

The serious concern in the U.S. should be that not enough people vote. Officials are routinely elected by a minority of citizens. In some states, lawmakers are resurrecting laws to restrict voting. Through efforts such as “motor voter” automatic registration and mail-in voting in states such as Oregon — which make voting easier instead of setting up obstacles — turnout is increasing.

These efforts are fulfilling the promises of the Voting rights Act of 1965, a federal action to overcome state and local barriers to voting. It seems sacrilegious that in a week when America celebrates liberty and independence, a federal panel with backing from the president of the United States seeks to somehow turn that action on its head, and this time, some states are fighting back.

Some Americans believe in democracy — until they don’t.

Roll Call columnist Mary C. Curtis has worked at The New York Times, The Baltimore Sun and The Charlotte Observer. Follow her on Twitter @mcurtisnc3

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