It is hard to be rebuffed more soundly than President Trump’s “election integrity” commission — or, as he called it, the “very distinguished voter fraud panel” — has been stiffed by most of the states. It’s not hard to imagine why. For one thing, the panel appears to be designed less to improve election efficiency than to boost the president’s fragile ego.
Unlike earlier commissions under President George W. Bush following the 2000 Florida election debacle or President Barack Obama’s 2013 panel in response to such 2012 complaints as voters forced to wait in long lines to vote, President Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Electoral Integrity was inspired by one of his own notorious fish stories.
You remember how last November, a few days after his election, the president indicated in a tweet that his Electoral College victory was not enough. He wanted to claim victory in the popular vote, too.
“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide,” he tweeted on Nov. 27, “I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions who voted illegally.”
Through spokesmen, Trump claimed a breathtaking “3 to 5 million” voted illegally. Where did Trump hear that number? Leading fact-checkers PunditFact, Snopes and the Washington Post’s Fact Checker traced it to Alex Jones, the famously conspiracy-obsessed radio and internet star, who, among other bizarre allegations, claims that the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newtown, Conn., was all a hoax, put on perhaps to spur more gun safety legislation.
With similarly snowflake-thin credibility, Jones backed up the illegal voters claim by citing a “report” that turned out to be only a tweet by Gregg Phillips, a self-described conservative voter fraud specialist at another website called VoteStand.com, which reportedly offered the fact-checkers no explanation for how he arrived at his number.
Yet in his typical don’t-back-down fashion, President Trump refused to let an absence of facts get in the way of his repeating the false claim to astonished congressional leaders in January in his first meeting with them to seek support for his legislative agenda.
Even now, long after his inauguration, he is drawn back to his election totals like a hungry hound to a pork chop.
His voter fraud pursuit resembles his hunt for Obama’s birth certificate: Evidence — or the lack of it — is no match for towering suspicions on both sides.
Numerous states have said they won’t comply with the commission’s request for voter registrations, which includes voter history, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and other identifying personal information. News reports by the end of last week said 44 states had refused to comply with the request by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who serves as vice chair of Trump’s commission. But Kobach disputed that number, saying only 14 states and the District of Columbia had refused. Most of the rest had partly complied, except for information that they were barred by law from reporting.
Kobach has pointed out that the requests are entirely voluntary and that many states already offer the same information for sale to political parties and campaigns. When asked whether the commission would consider paying the states for the info, Kobach said he would not rule that out. Yet even he had to admit that Kansas law prevented his own state office from complying with his federal commission’s request.
Other unexpected comedy turned up in the rejections by some other states. “My reply would be,” wrote Mississippi’s Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Kentucky Secretary of State Allison Lundergan Grimes quipped on MSNBC, “There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this study seem sensible.”
But, just to be clear, I’m not soft on vote fraud. I spent too many years as a reporter — including a major vote fraud investigation — in Chicago, a city long associated with the sarcastic phrase “vote early and often,” to think that voter fraud is a myth. But I also know better than to think it runs into the “millions” as Trump claims.
However, even if it is only a few cases uncovered here and there, which is closer to the truth, fraudulent voting must be rooted out wherever it is found, but not at the expense of unfairly blocking legitimate voters — or exaggerating the problem in ways that recklessly undermine public faith in our election system.
Clarence Page is a member of the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board. Readers may send him email at email@example.com. Column courtesy of the Associated Press.