Little movement on White House probe into voter fraud

On Super Bowl Sunday this year, President Donald Trump told Fox News that Vice President Mike Pence would head a commission into voter fraud allegations — ones that he made, claiming that between three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 election.

The commission was formed three months later, but it has yet to meet and there’s no date set to do so.

But state-level commission members say if they were to get underway, Russia should be center stage.

More than one member of the White House’s Election on Voter Integrity told CNN on Thursday that the group would not be doing its job if it did not examine possible interference by a Russian intelligence agency or a military intelligence agency in voting systems.

“If you know that there is an outside force that is trying to jimmy the door on the election process somehow, you would want to know about that,” said Matt Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state and a member of the commission. “That includes the Russians, the Martians, I don’t care. It has to be part of the discussion.”

Dunlap said he has not heard from the White House about the commission since the May press release.

The Trump administration, mired in questions about links between Trump campaign officials and Russians, has said the voter fraud commission might look at the issue of Russian interference — but officials made no promises.

Commission vice-chairman and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach told CNN: “The commission may look at the issue of voter roll databases and the security of those databases, but it will ultimately be up to the commissioners themselves what (to investigate). As you can imagine, there are dozens of potential topics that are around the fringes of election integrity and election security.”

Dunlap said that he’s glad that the White House included him in the commission, but he thinks that the lack of movement so far may be intentional.

“If they have any dignity about this, they’ll stop meeting as a commission because I just don’t think we’re going to find very much,” he said. “It could be a realization that there’s not a lot there.”

The commission’s focus

Kobach said he doubts that “the large issues” of Russian interference, like the release of Democratic National Committee emails, are going to come up in the probe, but added that the commission may look at “vulnerabilities of voter rolls in terms of attempts to breach them.”

Another member of the commission, former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, said he would like to see a wholesale investigation into the United States’ voting systems.

After 50 to 60 years of improving voter access, the US now has one of the most accessible systems in the world, Blackwell said — and concerns about election fraud should focus on that system’s remaining vulnerabilities. The United States’ decentralized system, which is broken down by state, is a good way to keep ballots safe, he added.

Asked whether he believes the President’s unfounded claim that three to five million people voted in the 2016 election illegally, Blackwell wouldn’t give a straightforward answer.

“We know that there have been penetrations of the integrity of the system. There are documented cases of voter rolls that can be misused. We’re going to look at data I’m sure, and look at how vulnerable system is and is not,” he said.

Blackwell said that he hasn’t heard from the White House or office of the vice president about the commission “in a few weeks.”

Background checks

Both Kobach and another senior adviser to Pence said that the hold-up on the commission is largely because background checks still need to be completed and not all the participants have been announced.

A spokeswoman for Connie Lawson, the secretary of state of Indiana, said she has submitted her paperwork to the White House for her background clearance.

Luis Borunda, one of the new additions to the commission announced by the White House on Wednesday, tells CNN that he’s “just happy to serve” on the commission. The current deputy Maryland secretary of state said that Kobach reached out to his office too see if he would join.

Borunda said that since the commission is still forming, he can’t comment on the parameters of its work — or whether that will include Russian meddling.

But he added: “I know there’s a lot of different issues here in terms of voter fraud and that happens to be one of them, so it would surprise me if it wasn’t looked at it some manner, shape or form.”

Mark Rhodes, a county clerk in West Virginia, said that he didn’t know who else was on the commission with him until he looked it up online Thursday afternoon. Mac Warner, West Virginia’s secretary of state, recommended Rhodes to Kobach, and that’s how he was offered the spot on the commission, Rhodes said.

Rhodes touted Wood County’s voting record in 2016, which had no instances of voter fraud.

“I think that we have a fairly good system in West Virginia as far as our records and voter lists,” he said. “We had nothing that would cause us concern during the election or that something had been hacked.”

Slow going

In mid-May, the White House announced five commissioners who would oversee the group of current and former elected officials and political appointees.

The initial release said that the commission would “study vulnerabilities in voting systems used for federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations, and fraudulent voting… study concerns about voter suppression, as well as other voting irregularities.” It stated that there would be more members named at a later time and the final results would be released in a report in 2018.

At the time, a press release from Pence’s office said, “This action by President Trump fulfills another promise made to the American people.”