The White House has said the commission will embark upon a “thorough review of registration and voting issues in federal elections,” but experts and voting rights advocates have pilloried Trump for his claims of widespread fraud, which studies and state officials alike have not found. They say that they fear the commission will be used to restrict voting.
Those worries intensified this week after the commission sent letters to 50 states and the District on Wednesday asking for a trove of information, including names, dates of birth, voting histories and, if possible, party identifications. The letters also asked for evidence of voter fraud, convictions for election-related crimes and recommendations for preventing voter intimidation — all within 16 days.
While the Trump administration has said it is just requesting public information, the letters met with swift — and sometimes defiant — rejection. By Saturday, 25 states were partially or entirely refusing to provide the requested information; some said state laws prohibit releasing certain details about voters, while others refused to provide any information because of the commission’s makeup and backstory.
“This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) said in a statement. “At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.”
California, a state Trump singled out for “serious voter fraud,” also refused to participate. Alex Padilla, the California secretary of state, said providing data “would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud.”
A spokesman for Pence defended the letters requesting voter data, noting they seek information that is available publicly under state laws.
“The commission very clearly is requesting publicly available data in accordance with each state’s laws in an effort to increase the integrity of our election system,” Jarrod Agen, the spokesman, said in a statement. “The commission’s goal is to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote because the integrity of the vote is the foundation of our democracy.”