Colo. US Senator Bennet calls for investigation into Trump Election Integrity Commission

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Colo. US Senator Bennet calls for investigation into Trump Election Integrity Commission

by Lisa Cyriacks

In a letter to the US Government Accountability Office, Michael Bennet (CO) and two other Democratic Senators, Cory Booker (NJ) and Amy Klobuchar (MN), asked the federal watchdog agency to examine how much federal money is being spent by the panel and to determine what the commission has been doing about voter participation and how it’s reaching its conclusions.

The creation and operations of the commission “are cause for serious concern,” the Senators wrote. “Investigative reports raise questions about the partisan motives and actions of the Commission.”

Overall, the request questions the motives of the commission, citing concerns that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity created by President Trump is having the effect of suppressing voter participation. For example, over 5,000 Coloradans withdrew their voter registrations in response to the Commission’s request for personal data earlier this year.

The other major concern cited concerns about the lack of transparency in how the commission is conducting its investigation. “Investigative reports raise questions about the partisan motives and actions of the Commission,” the senators wrote.

“We fear that the manner in which the (commission) is conducting its work will prevent the public from a full and transparent understanding of the commission’s conclusions and unnecessarily diminish confidence in our democratic process,” wrote the three lawmakers.

After the request filed with the US Government Accountability Office two members of the commission, also Democrats, wrote letters to commission staff raising questions about the group’s transparency.

The commission was created in response to President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that millions of people had voted illegally in the 2016 election. The commission’s leadership is Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. 

Kobach is the creator of the controversial Interstate Crosscheck System. “Crosscheck” is a data collection system that, in theory, is supposed to detect people voting in multiple locations. His promotion for use of Crosscheck nationwide is one reason many voting rights advocates are concerned that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is really a vehicle for recommending mass purging of voter rolls. But academics and states that use the program have found that its results are overrun with false positives, creating a high risk of disenfranchising legal voters.

Colorado state officials report that voter issues in Colorado are rare. Between January 2012 and early November 2016, there were 32 charges of various voting offenses, according to statistics compiled by the Colorado District Attorneys Council. Four convictions came of those charges.

Separately, the Colorado Secretary of State’s office released a study earlier this year that found 19 of Colorado’s nearly 3 million voters in last year’s election may have cast two ballots and that 38 of them might have voted in another state.

In late September, the group United to Protect Democracy filed a lawsuit against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity citing violations of the Paperwork Reduction Act, a law that requires the government to go through specific procedures before it requests large amounts of data.

If the courts ultimately decide that the commission is not subject to the law, a loophole in the Paperwork Reduction Act would be created, essentially allowing the executive branch to engage in massive data collection without oversight.

The group’s goal in filing the lawsuit is to make sure that the Trump administration does not ignore norms and rules that limit politicization of the executive branch and guard against authoritarianism. 

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity became a front-page story in June (2017) when Kobach issued a broad request to all 50 states and the District of Columbia for personal information on every registered voter, including name, birth date, address, criminal history, party affiliation, and Social Security number. 

At issue in the lawsuit is that the commission did not clarify how the data would be used, transmitted, or securely stored. Nearly all states refused to comply with the request at least in part, and civil rights and watchdog groups filed multiple lawsuits in response – most of which have failed to stop the commission from collecting this data. 

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams responded by sending only the portion of data requested that would otherwise be available as part of Colorado’s open records law.

In September, US Senators Michael Bennet and Cory Booker also introduced legislation to require a government audit of the controversial election commission. “There is simply no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the United States,” Bennet said in a statement. “The commission is wasting taxpayer money investigating the president’s invented claims about voter fraud, while serious threats like Russian interference in our elections go unaddressed.”

“This partisan Commission shouldn’t exist in the first place,” Bennet said. “At a minimum, the GAO should audit its activities to ensure it isn’t working to reduce voter participation and that it is using data and facts — rather than conspiracy theories — to inform its conclusions. So far, it has failed on both fronts. This amendment [to the National Defense Authorization Act] will ensure the commission operates with transparency and accountability, and that voter information is being adequately protected.”

Both senators have also called for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to be disbanded.

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