Kobach: Why States Need to Assist the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity

LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 8: Maryjane Medina, 18, a first time voter, walks up to polling booth to cast her vote at a polling station set-up at Watts Towers Arts Center on November 8, 2016 in Los Angeles, California. (Photo by Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Irfan Khan/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images

Last Thursday, the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity officially asked each state’s chief election official for a copy of their state’s publicly-available voter information, in order to better investigate voter fraud across the nation. I’m the Vice Chair of that Commission, and the letter went out under my signature.

Immediately thereafter, several prominent Democrats declared that they would not comply with this request. California Secretary of State Alex Padilla stated, “California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach.”

Similarly, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe fumed, “I have no intention of honoring this request. Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia.”

Governor McAuliffe’s declaration was particularly amusing, because only three days earlier In Virginia, a college student had been convicted of fraudulently registering 18 dead people. Evidently, there’s plenty of voter fraud in Virginia. Apparently, McAuliffe is ignorant of what’s going on in his own state.

The hyperventilating on the Left about this request is particularly strange since the Commission only requested information that is already publicly available. Any person on the street can walk into a county election office and obtain a publicly-available copy of that state’s voter rolls—which usually includes voter name, address, date of birth, and the recent elections in which the voter participated. During any campaign season, there are literally hundreds of candidates and campaign workers in every state who possess these same voter rolls. Voter rolls are also frequently obtained by journalists seeking to do election-related research.

Although private information like the last four numbers of a voter’s social security number is sometimes included in a state’s voter database, that information is usually not publicly available. The Commission didn’t request that information. Thus, there is no threat that the Commission’s work might compromise anyone’s privacy.

The Commission’s primary objectives include measuring the amount of voter fraud and improper voter registration in the country. The voter rolls are the obvious starting point for the Commission’s work.

Indeed just about every investigation that the Commission undertakes will require a copy of the publicly-available voter rolls for its work to be meaningful. For example, if a witness testifies before the Commission that a certain person voted fraudulently in a given state, the Commission needs to confirm that such a person even exists on the voter rolls and actually cast a ballot in the relevant election.

On a larger scale, the Commission is likely to look at the phenomenon of people registering and/or voting the names of the dead. As the recent Virginia conviction illustrates, this is very much a real problem.

Last year, the Pew Center on the States estimated that more than 1.8 million deceased individuals are still registered to vote. And Pew conceded that their estimate was likely on the low side. The Commission could determine the exact number (rather than relying on an estimate) by running the states’ voter rolls against federal and state databases containing the names of deceased individuals.

More importantly, the Commission could answer the question of how many of those deceased individuals were recorded as actually casting a vote in the 2016 election. The number may be large, or it may be small. But the American people deserve to know what it is, either way.

Another important question is how many aliens are illegally registered to vote in the United States. And of those who are registered, how many have actually voted?

During the Obama Administration, the federal government declined state requests to compare state voter rolls to federal databases of known (legal) aliens residing in the United States. But now the Commission may be able to finally conduct that research. If the same person appears on a state’s voter rolls with the indication that he cast a ballot in 2016, and he also appears on the federal government’s list of aliens living in the United States, then there is evidence that an alien has likely voted.

That research has never been done before. Many people would like to see just how big this problem is. The consequences are certainly important.  Every time an alien votes, it effectively cancels out the vote of a United States citizen.

In my own state of Kansas, one academic expert has estimated that the number of aliens on the voter rolls may exceed 18,000. In a state such as California, that number is likely to be much, much larger. Is that why the California Secretary of State doesn’t want the Commission to look at his state’s voter rolls?

Finally, some of these opponents of the Commission have suggested that by studying the problem of voter fraud, the Commission will end up suppressing voter turnout in future elections. That is a truly baseless argument. How in the world can studying these statistics and providing information to the American public discourage someone from voting?

The Commission’s work is an exercise in transparent government, enhancing the public debate by providing important statistical information.  The Commission’s report (which will not contain any voter’s names) won’t cause anyone to stay at home during the 2018 election. It might however, shine some light on voter fraud and encourage some fraudsters to reduce their activity.

Maintaining the integrity of American elections is essential to the health of our republic. It’s also crucial to giving voters confidence that elections will not be stolen.

The bottom line is that without these publicly-available copies of the voter rolls, the Commission will be unable to effectively measure the extent of voter fraud in America. Maybe that’s the real objective of the officials who are standing in the way.

Kris W. Kobach is the elected Secretary of State of Kansas.  An expert in immigration law and policy, he coauthored the Arizona SB-1070 immigration law and represented in federal court the 10 ICE agents who sued to stop Obama’s 2012 executive amnesty.  President Trump has named him Vice Chairman of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity.


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