Election integrity: Above all, the Presidential Advisory Commission must protect the right to vote

Monday, Oct. 30, 2017 5:24 PM

Among the benefits of U.S. citizenship, the right to vote is one of the least tangible, but arguably the most precious.

Colorado’s Sen. Michael Bennet is concerned that the new Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity could infringe upon that right under the guise of making sure that no one casts a ballot illegally.

He and Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., are asking the U.S. Government Accountability Office to examine the activities of the commission, which they say is insufficiently transparent for a body dealing with aggregated data and could “unnecessarily diminish confidence in our democratic process.”

It already has.

After the commission asked secretaries of state across the nation for voter registration data, more than 5,000 Colorado residents canceled their registration because of fear the information might be misused. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams later said there was no evidence that any of them were ineligible to vote.

Further, an investigation in Colorado has turned up just 19 who may have voted twice, and 38 who may have voted in another state. “May have” is not the same as “did,” but go ahead and multiply the entire total by 50 states. The result is a number in the very low thousands, not the millions of people President Donald Trump claims illegally voted in the 2016 presidential election. Where’s the evidence of large-scale fraud?

Suspicion exists that one of the commission’s goals is to disenfranchise members of the groups least likely to vote for the president, and disproving that allegation is difficult because of the secrecy of the commission and lack of transparency even among its own members. For that, we can say thanks in part to the work of commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state.

In 2014, in a unanimous opinion by the 10th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals and a judge appointed by George W. Bush, Kobach was found to have engaged in “mass denial of a fundamental right” by blocking 18,000 Kansas motor voter applicants from registering to vote. His credibility being what it is, conspiracy theorists carry considerable weight in commission proceedings.

That’s too bad because true “election integrity” is a worthwhile goal that shouldn’t be sullied by partisan tricks. Minor problems exist, and can be fixed, but must not be obscured by partisan paranoia.

And the commission, in its impassioned zeal to prevent fraudulent votes, must not be allowed to prevent lawful voters from casting ballots.

Bennet is right: Let the group deliberate in the clear light of day. Our electoral process can handle the scrutiny.