The jubilant reaction to the commission’s demise reflected the anger at Trump’s false claims of voter fraud and creation of a partisan body widely seen as an instrument to limit access to voting. (Voter ID and other gambits have been stock-in-trade for Kobach, a gubernatorial candidate in Kansas.) The backlash against Trump’s claims of fraud have helped fuel Democratic anger, which drove high turnout in 2017 election victories.
Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a statement: “The commission never had anything to do with election integrity. It was instead a front to suppress the vote, perpetrate dangerous and baseless claims, and was ridiculed from one end of the country to the other. This shows that ill-founded proposals that just appeal to a narrow group of people won’t work, and we hope they’ll learn this lesson elsewhere.”
Protect Democracy, a litigation group founded to combat excesses and overreach by the administration, was one of many groups (including the Brennan Center for Justice, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, the American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause and others) that brought litigation against the commission. “The Pence Kobach Commission never should have been started to begin with as it was based on a lie. There is no credible evidence of widespread voter fraud, only evidence of cynical politicians trying to impose barriers that make it harder for patriotic citizens to vote,” its statement read. “We advised States in July they could legally refuse to comply with the Commission’s data requests and were there to sue the Commission when it violated the law. We are gratified that the work of our group and others helped end the Commission’s unlawful work and we’ll be there to challenge DHS if they try to do the same.”
Likewise, Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, had this reaction to news of the commission’s dissolution: “This commission was a sham from the start and everyone recognized it. We have real problems when it comes to elections: low voter turnout, unnecessary barriers to participation, outdated and insecure machines, and possible foreign interference. But rather than address these real threats to elections integrity, the commission engaged in a wild-goose chase for voter fraud, demonizing the very American voters whom we should all be helping to participate.” He concluded, “President Trump has tried and failed to spread his own fake news about voter fraud. We are proud of the role that the ACLU’s litigation had in ending this charade.”
The lesson here is threefold.
First, beating back against Trump’s ludicrous falsehoods pays off, though it takes time and resources. (In the meantime, his actions generate considerable backlash.) Trump’s lies take hold when they are not debunked.
Second, one of the critical institutional protections against Trump’s overreach remains the states. To a certain extent, that makes this year’s gubernatorial and state attorney general races national. You’ll see Democrats run on the promise to “protect the voters from Trump,” be it on voting or health care.
Third, the independent courts — often reviled by Trump — serve as another check on his power. The Post reported in July, “A federal judge has upheld a $1,000 fine against the vice chair of President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission, citing a ‘pattern’ of ‘misleading the Court’ in voter-ID cases. The ruling represents another blow to the credibility of a commission plagued by lawsuits and controversy in its first months of existence.” Likewise, in December the Associated Press reported: “A federal judge has ruled that Maine’s Secretary of State can’t be excluded from participating in the work of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, on which he serves. U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly’s ruling Friday in Washington, D.C., largely agrees with Matthew Dunlap’s argument that as a member of the commission he must be given access to substantive commission documents.” Approximately eight lawsuits were underway challenging some aspect of the commission’s operation.
Along with legal defeats of Trump’s attempt to monetarily punish cities that didn’t help feds round up illegal immigrants and his multiple defeats on the Muslim travel ban, this defeat for Trump should encourage states, litigants and voters to remain focused on reinforcing our democratic institutions and norms. Trump’s most recent defeat is an important victory that should fuel enthusiasm for further fights and for the critical midterms.