AT THE inaugural meeting of President Trump’s already embattled voter integrity commission last week, one member, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, expressed relief that despite bitter controversy over the panel’s mission, at least no one had questioned the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election. A few hours later, the commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, questioned the legitimacy of the 2016 presidential election.
In an appearance on MSNBC, Mr. Kobach, a Republican titan of voter suppression who has been repeatedly sued for his relentless efforts to cull voters from the rolls of his home state, was asked if he believed that Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes, as the official tally indicates. “You know,” said Mr. Kobach, “we may never know the answer to that question.”
In fact, not a speck of evidence exists to cast doubt on the official tally of the popular vote, nor, for that matter, on the electoral vote. Still, the offhand remark was in keeping with Mr. Kobach’s years-long effort, along with that of other Republicans, to erode public confidence in American elections to provide a pretext for tough state laws whose real goal is to obstruct voting by minorities and young people, who tend to support Democrats.
Formed by Mr. Trump after he falsely asserted that 3 to 5 million votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election, the commission includes members, in addition to Mr. Kobach, known for their histories of voter obstruction. One, former Ohio secretary of state J. Kenneth Blackwell, a Republican, is notorious for trying to reject registration forms submitted on paper that was too thin, and for trying to impede voter registration drives. Another, Hans Von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official, led a failed attempt to purge voter rolls in Missouri.
At the commission’s meeting, some officials talked sense. Alan King, a probate judge who oversees elections in Jefferson County, Ala., which includes Birmingham, stressed the importance of new funding for modern voting equipment. Another, Mr. Dunlap, described an investigation into allegations of double-voting by 300 out-of-state students attending Maine colleges, but also registered at home; it turned out they had only voted once.
No doubt, voter lists nationwide must be kept clean and up-to-date. But glitches, inconsistencies and double registrations — often caused by people who move from one state to another, or whose names remain on the rolls posthumously — are not the sinister indication of fraud that champions of suppression like Mr. Kobach pretend. The relentless suggestions to the contrary, even in the absence of proof of any widespread illegal voting, has had the intended effect: Americans’ confidence in the honesty of elections has fallen steadily for almost a decade, according to a Gallup poll, and sharply last year as Mr. Trump harped on alleged vote “rigging.”
An honest election commission would make constructive suggestions for systemic improvements while at the same time debunking the patently phony idea that fraud is common. In this case, however, Mr. Kobach and his allies have an all-too-transparent agenda.
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