Democrats on Trump’s Voting Commission Iced out Since First Meeting

Kira Lerner Political Reporter, Think Progress

When President Trump announced the formation of his Commission on Election Integrity in May, the White House said the group would “study vulnerabilities in voting systems” and “utilize all available data” in order to strengthen elections. But several Democrats serving on the bipartisan panel said they have had no voting-related communication and have been assigned no tasks since they first met in July.

“I have not received much information nor been working on much,” West Virginia county clerk Mark Rhodes told ThinkProgress on Tuesday, clarifying that by “much,” he meant anything at all.

Rhodes said commission chair Mike Pence and vice-chair Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Republican secretary of state, have given him no information about what he is supposed to be doing between meetings, and he has no idea if the co-chairs or Republican members are hard at work without Democratic input. “I honestly don’t know because I haven’t spoken to anybody else that’s on the committee,” he said.

Since the initial July 19th meeting, Kobach himself has been busy as commission co-chair. On July 26, he followed up his controversial letter requesting a massive amount of voter data from all 50 states — a request that was at least partially rejected by 44 states — with a second letter addressing the backlash and requesting publicly available voter information. Still Rhodes heard nothing.

“I’ve just been reading some articles and studies and things of that nature on my own,” he said. “Nothing assigned by the chairs.”

The only communication he has received has been regarding plans for the next meeting — Rhodes said the commissioners have been told to keep September 12th free. At that time, he hopes the co-chairs will have collected and analyzed voter data from the states so the panel can compare the numbers and begin its work.

Rhodes is one of 12 members of the commission that includes five Democrats and seven Republicans. Democratic member David Dunn also told ThinkProgress that the commission hasn’t “had a lot of communication.”

“The only information I have received was at the first meeting. Nothing else,” Dunn, a former Arkansas state legislator and government affairs lobbyist, said in an email Tuesday. “I did get an email that said to hold Sept. 12 open for another meeting. Nothing else.”

A third Democratic commissioner, Maine’s Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, told ThinkProgress that has received the same amount of information as Rhodes and Dunn. “I’ve had no more communication than them,” he said.

Dunlap also does not know if Republican members are studying any voting systems or data without input from Democrats. He said he finds it “unusual” that more than a month has gone by and he hasn’t been asked to do anything.

If any voting-related work is being conducted, it’s likely being done by Pence or Kobach, who worked without commission input when he sent a follow-up letter requesting voter data from states. Dunlap said at the time the second request for data went out that commissioners had not discussed the letter before Kobach sent it to all 50 states.

A representative for Kobach did not respond to a request for comment. Marc Lotter, the vice president’s press secretary, told ThinkProgress Tuesday that “the work continues,” but would not comment directly on why the Democrats haven’t received any communication other than logistical planning.

“I know information is going out,” he said. “There’s constant [mumble] to all the members, the work continues, and we will see them again at their next meeting here next month.”

Lotter clarified that he meant constant “communication,” contradicting the three Democratic members, and said the commissioners will “get updated on the work as it is continuing during its next meeting.” He would not say whether the co-chairs or Republicans had been conducting work without Democratic input.

“The next meeting is being scheduled as we speak,” he said. “We’ll get an update on all the relevant materials moving forward.”

It’s not difficult to imagine that Pence and Kobach are working without input from Democratic commissioners to push for voter purges or similar efforts to make it harder for people to vote. Both men have long histories when it comes to suppressing votes and advocating for policies like photo ID laws or the use of cross-check systems that result in qualified Americans being blocked from the polls.

Trump administration agencies are also working alongside the co-chairs to keep the commission’s work secret. After its Freedom of Information Act requests went unanswered, the Brennan Center for Justice announced Monday it had filed a lawsuit in federal court to compel the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget to disclose information pertaining to the commission. The advocacy group argues that the public is legally entitled to know about the group’s operations, methods, and intentions.

“When the public is not able to oversee the work of a presidential panel like this, there is a risk of abuse, which could negatively impact voting rights across the country,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said in a statement.

According to the president’s May executive order, the panel will “spend the next year completing its work and issue a report in 2018.”

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Reposted from ThinkProgress

Kira Lerner is a Political Reporter for ThinkProgress. She previously worked as a reporter covering litigation and policy for the legal newswire Law360. She has also worked as an investigative journalist with the Chicago Innocence Project where she helped develop evidence that led to the exoneration of a wrongfully convicted man from Illinois prison. A native of the Washington, D.C. area, Kira earned her bachelor's degree at Northwestern University's Medill School of Journalism.

Posted In: Allied Approaches

Union Matters

Saving the Nation’s Parks

From the USW

From tumbledown bridges to decrepit roads and failing water systems, crumbling infrastructure undermines America’s safety and prosperity. In coming weeks, Union Matters will delve into this neglect and the urgent need for a rebuilding campaign that creates jobs, fuels economic growth and revitalizes communities. 

The wildfires ravaging the West Coast not only pose imminent danger to iconic national parks like Crater Lake in Oregon and the Redwoods in California, but threaten the future of all of America’s beloved scenic places.

As climate change fuels the federal government’s need to spend more of National Park Service (NPS) and U.S. Forest Service budgets on wildfire suppression, massive maintenance backlogs and decrepit infrastructure threaten the entire system of national parks and forests.

A long-overdue infusion of funds into the roads, bridges, tunnels, dams and marinas in these treasured spaces would generate jobs and preserve landmark sites for generations to come.

The infrastructure networks in the nation’s parks long have failed to meet modern-day demand. The American Society of Civil Engineers gave parks a D+ rating in its 2017 infrastructure report card, citing chronic underfunding and deferred maintenance.

Just this year, a large portion of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which is owned and managed by the NPS, collapsed due to heavy rains and slope failures. Projects to prevent disasters like this one get pushed further down the road as wildfire management squeezes agency budgets more each year.

Congress recently passed the Great American Outdoors Act,  allocating billions in new funding for the NPS.

But that’s just a first step in a long yet vital process to bring parks and forests to 21st-century standards. America’s big, open spaces cannot afford to suffer additional neglect.

More ...

There is Dignity in All Work

There is Dignity in All Work