Trump's Election Integrity Commission Holds First Meeting In Effort To Probe Voter Fraud

Jul 19, 2017
Originally published on July 19, 2017 11:08 pm
Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

For months, President Trump has alleged without evidence that millions of people voted illegally last November. Today the commission he set up to try to find out if those claims are true held its first official gathering at the White House. NPR's Pam Fessler has this report.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: President Trump made a surprise appearance at the commission's first meeting, telling its 12 members they have a very, very important job, which is upholding the principle of one citizen, one vote. He made it very clear where he thinks that principle faces its greatest threat.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Every time voter fraud occurs, it cancels out the vote of a lawful citizen and undermines democracy - can't let that happen. Any form of illegal or fraudulent voting, whether by non-citizens or the deceased, and any form of voter suppression or intimidation must be stopped.

FESSLER: And he was backed up by several panel members, including those who've been among the nation's most vocal advocates of ferreting out and fighting voter fraud.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: We do have problems that need to be fixed.

FESSLER: Hans von Spakovsky of the conservative Heritage Foundation said state voter rolls are filled with duplicate, erroneous and outdated registrations and that even a few fraudulent votes can make the difference in a close election. He then handed out a printout of a database he's been keeping to show that the threat is real.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

VON SPAKOVSKY: We are up to almost 1,100 proven cases of voter fraud, including almost a thousand convictions of individuals in court.

FESSLER: But those numbers, which pale in comparison to the hundreds of millions of registered voters, are one reason that Trump's claims and the panel's existence have been widely criticized. Voting rights advocates worry that the fraud issue will be blown out of proportion at the expense of other things, like getting more people out to vote. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, 1 of 5 Democrats on the panel, said he hopes the commission looks at what works well in elections to help instill more confidence.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MATTHEW DUNLAP: I listened very closely to the remarks of the president. But no one who's spoken, including the president, has questioned the legitimacy of the outcome of the 2016 election. I think that's a great place to start from.

FESSLER: An Alabama probate judge Alan King, another Democrat, said he's seen no evidence of fraud in 16 years working on local elections. But he has seen another problem that lots of election officials are worried about - aging voting equipment that needs to be replaced before it breaks down.

ALAN KING: These voting machines are outdated. There's no money there. Counties don't have money. States don't have money. We need money.

FESSLER: It became clear pretty quickly that the commission has lots to talk about, including the threat of elections being hacked by Russia or anyone else. But for now, the panel agreed to focus on collecting more information, including voter registration rolls which some states have been reluctant to provide. President Trump said the commission will get that data, although he didn't say how. The panel's chairman, Vice President Mike Pence, also said he wants more public input even though the public could not attend today's meeting. It was only available online. Those with strong opinions showed up instead at a rally outside

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No justice.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN: No peace.

UNIDENTIFIED CROWD: No peace.

FESSLER: Many of the 100 or so protesters who appeared in a park across from the White House said they're worried that the commission will be used to justify more restrictions like strict voter ID laws. Joya Taft-Dick from Washington, D.C., called the panel a sham.

JOYA TAFT-DICK: This is not about voter fraud. This is literally about stripping the right to vote from millions of Americans.

FESSLER: Which is something panel members today insisted was not their goal at all. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.