President Trump's voting commission has fallen flat on its face, with nearly every state refusing to hand over the voter registration data the commission is asking for. Louisiana, a solid Republican state, is one of those. I talked to Secretary of State Tom Schedler (R) about why. Our conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
THE FIX: Let's start from the beginning. What was your reaction in January, when the new president said millions of illegal votes almost cost him the election?
SCHEDLER: As secretary of state of Louisiana, I take exception to that. I don't think we have a bunch of illegal votes being cast in Louisiana. Our list maintenance, I would put it up against any state.
Louisiana has been a photo-ID state since 1987. We don't have same-day registration. We don't have automatic registration. We're not an all-paper ballot state. So I think the safeguards we do have give me somewhat of a comfort zone that maybe didn't exist 30 to 40 years ago. A lot of the prejudice against Deep South Louisiana go back to the mid-60s, when we were a pre-clearance state. I often tell people, much to my conservative principles, that Louisiana deserved to be on that.
We had a disparity of over 40 percent between African American and Caucasian votes in elections. I'm proud to tell you today that disparity is less than a point and a half. When's the last time you heard Louisiana named a problem in an election?
We have a drastically different state than what we were then, and I stand on the process we have here. The U.S. Constitution gives the rights of the states to have the time, place and manner of elections.
Given Louisiana's history with voting rights, did you take Trump's accusations about voter fraud personally?
I'm a big boy. I've been doing this for 30 years. Yeah, you don't like somebody saying that, but it's not so much personal to me. We've seen an erosion of voter participation and voter confidence across the state, so anytime someone brings into question the integrity of elections, that doesn't help the situation.
And usually, people who are saying that really don't understand the voting system. My job here is to make the process easy, efficient, practical, accessible, but make it damn hard to cheat.
And you realize your criticisms sound like they extend to the voter fraud commission Trump put together?
Yes and no. After hearing me talk, you're probably like: 'This guy is like California and Virginia and adamantly against an investigation.' You know what, I welcome the investigation. I think it's time to put the concerns to rest once and for all. We've got Democrats calling voter suppression. We've got Republicans claiming voter fraud. We've got it coming from all angles, and at the end of the day, it diminishes voter participation. It's a difficult thing in the states for us to fight.
So let's get the questions answered once and for all. If Donald Trump's comments are totally off base, it seems to be the other side would want to show he's wrong. If he's right, I would hope all Americans, no matter what your political stripes, would be in agreement: Let's clean it up.
[Editor's note: No study has shown the existence of widespread voter fraud.]
So what could this commission do differently to get your cooperation?
It was the way the ask was approached. If you look at Kris Kobach's letter, on the first page he only asks for publicly available voter rolls that are legal under your state law.
But then he goes on to get into some things that get a little out there: Social Security numbers, mother's maiden name, date of birth and the like. Only yesterday in an interview did he finally say what he should have said from the get go: 'I'm only asking for public information that anybody can get. I'd like to get A, B, C, D and E, but if you're law doesn't allow it, that's okay.'
And would you have handed that data over?
I would have been a little less verbal, I woulda just said: Hey, Kris, this is where you get the public information that's available. It's address, name, party affiliation and frequency of voting. It's readily available to anyone. He forced all of us — after being besieged with thousands of tweets and emails from both side of the political equation, saying: 'Don't give out my personal information.' So I made a very steadfast deal that no Louisiana information that encompasses Social Security number, mother's maiden name, date of birth, will ever be released under my administration, Tom Schedler.
And let me get the hypocrisy of politics today for just a moment. Five years ago I was sued by Eric Holder's Department of Justice regarding we didn't with 'sufficient vigor' register people to vote at social services office. They wanted me to produce in discovery the voter registration lists that included the birthday, the Social Security number, the mother's maiden name and the code of how to manipulate the data. I refused, I was defending the confidentiality of people's voting information. And I will continue to do that. I didn't give this to Obama. I'm not giving it to Trump.
I think the difference between the two administrations — and perhaps why there's been such a visceral reaction to this request — is the president accused states like yours among others, as trying to hide something. The White House said refusing to give over the data is “a political stunt” on the states' part.
I wouldn't necessarily disagree with you. I think they have created this environment. I think, done in a different way, this could have been accomplished. And it still can be accomplished. I'm passionate about the integrity of elections, and there are tools to do this very thing from a state level.
There is a Homeland Security list called the SAVE list that purportedly has 15-20 million illegal aliens that are in this country. Can you imagine how valuable that could be to the states, when they register someone, to be able to cross check against that list to determine if they are a citizen?
Are states under attack in terms of their election integrity?
I don't know if we are under attack, but it goes back to: There are so many people engaged in this that don't have a clue how elections are run. It's beyond me.
Things have become so caustic, and the sad thing is that it's spilled over now into the most precious right we have as Americans, the vote. And that's what's so frustrating to me, no matter who is claiming fraud or whatever. Damnit, bring forth the proof. Bring forth the proof that the Russians did something on Election Day. I'm so tired of this back and forth and nobody brings the proof.
What other advice would you give Trump and this voter commission to get states to participate?
Take the time to study and learn the system, learn what people are doing, and learn what elections are I say that to Donald Trump, I say that to anybody in Washington, D.C. Learn the system and then you can criticize it.