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Trump Dissolves Controversial Voter Fraud Commission


President Trump's commission to investigate voter fraud did not reveal that much, and now the president is dissolving the commission. He is not dissolving his insistence that there was significant voter fraud in the presidential election that we won. System is rigged, the president said on Twitter today, must go to voter ID. NPR's Pam Fessler has been covering the commission. She joins us now. Hi, Pam.


INSKEEP: What happened?

FESSLER: Well, the president is blaming the refusal by a lot of states to turn over detailed voter information to the commission. As you recall, one of the first things that the vice chairman did - Republican secretary of state in Kansas Kris Kobach - was ask every state to turn over its detailed voter rolls, things like names, addresses, date of birth, even Social Security numbers if possible. And the states were - one of the purposes was to see if there was evidence of voter fraud, and states resisted. They were worried about privacy concerns, and they questioned just how this information was going to be used. And, you know, despite the president saying this was mostly Democratic states that were opposing, the opposition was bipartisan.

INSKEEP: Oh. In state after state across the country, there was not so much interest in cooperating with this commission.

FESSLER: Exactly. Mississippi Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann in fact told the panel it could go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.

INSKEEP: You have told us many times over the years that there's very limited evidence of voter fraud in any given election.

FESSLER: Right. And it's not just me. I mean, almost every expert in the country, election officials, say that the president's claims and allegations that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in 2016 are just completely unsubstantiated.

INSKEEP: Did this commission find anything that would suggest otherwise?

FESSLER: As far as I know, they didn't find anything that they...

INSKEEP: And then what happens to the investigation now?

FESSLER: Well, the president has said that they're going to ask the Department of Homeland Security to look at the commission's initial findings, which, as I say, is pretty curious since I don't know if there were any findings, and then decide what to do. The commission - the Department of Homeland Security, the main thing they've been doing is actually looking into these allegations of Russian hacking in the 2016 elections and trying to work with states to improve cybersecurity. That's where their focus has been.

INSKEEP: So it's taking the president's conspiracy theory about the election and grafting it onto the Russia investigation in a sense.

FESSLER: Well, we don't know if that's actually what the Department of Homeland Security will be looking at. And the other thing that the president this morning was calling for - voter ID. Now, that is something that quite frankly is up to the states. It's not up to the president or to the federal government.

INSKEEP: And a lot of states have enacted voter ID laws.

FESSLER: Exactly. There are a lot of - and that's in fact why they say there's very little fraud because they already have a lot of measures in place to protect against it.

INSKEEP: Pam Fessler, listen along with us because we're going to bring in another guest, Matthew Dunlap, the secretary of state of Maine, who is a Democrat. He was on the president's voter fraud commission, which was bipartisan, and sued the commission to find out more of what it was doing. Secretary Dunlap, good morning.

MATTHEW DUNLAP: Good morning.

INSKEEP: First, the idea that you would have to sue the commission that you were on to find out what it was doing - did I describe correctly your situation?

DUNLAP: That's very accurate, and it was not something that I went leaping into. In fact, I was greatly hesitant to go down that road. But I was asking the exact same questions that you're asking right now. What were we working on? And I thought that was a very strange question to have to ask being a member of the commission. And when we couldn't get answers, we pressed forward with a legal complaint. And we prevailed in court on the 22 of December and hadn't heard anything since then until last night when we got word that the president had dissolved the commission.

INSKEEP: So what did you learn in that process about what the commission was doing?

DUNLAP: Well, we haven't learned very much. No information was handed over pursuant to the court order. And we were actually talking yesterday about how to proceed to get the White House to conform to the order from the federal court. And, you know, I think what we don't know is what's really scary. And, you know, that's why I - all I wanted to know what was going on. I wanted to know what our reference materials were, who were we talking to, how the planning was being situated, what our schedule was. I didn't have a sense of what our schedule was. And we were hearing things third-hand in the newspapers about possibly meeting in December, possibly meeting in January but nothing directly from staff or other members of the commission.

INSKEEP: You know, I want to ask about the perspective of Kris Kobach, who was the guiding force, the driving force, behind this commission in recent months. His argument, if I can try to summarize it, was essentially why not look? Why not see what is there? Why would you - why would you not at least investigate? And he spoke with NPR about this over the summer. Let's hear a little bit of what he said.


KRIS KOBACH: If a state like Kentucky or California apparently won't provide publicly available information, one has to ask the question why not? I mean, what are they trying to hide if they don't want a presidential advisory commission to study their state's voter rolls?

INSKEEP: OK. Why wouldn't a state want its voter rolls to be studied to see if there's some problem?

DUNLAP: Well, in the course of the state of Maine, we couldn't. Under state law, we cannot provide the information to the commission because they said they were going to make it public. Maine law says it has to be kept confidential. And to that fact, even Secretary Kobach couldn't comply with his own letter. He couldn't - he couldn't supply all the information that the commission was asking for. So - and the information they were asking for, what was publicly available is so high level it'd be absolutely useless. I mean, how many Matt Dunlaps are there in the United States? You'd have to get a lot deeper information to have that information be of any use to the commission. And then...

INSKEEP: Someone is Googling Matt Dunlap right now just to see how many answers come up. Go on. I'm sorry.

DUNLAP: I want them to think about the fellow that does voiceovers and modeling in Seattle who's also named Matt Dunlap.

INSKEEP: (Laughter) Well, let's hope his voter registration is separate from yours and in a different state and everything else. But let's be serious here. There is a lot of concern about the integrity of elections at this moment, particularly because of Russian interference in 2016, which is a separate issue. But then there's this question that is raised by Republicans about voter fraud. Is there - having been on this commission, having thought about this - is there a serious unanswered question in your mind about voter fraud?

DUNLAP: I don't believe there is. I never believed that we'd find anything like what the president alleged. But what I did think we had the opportunity to do would be to answer that question and talk about the good work that we do, not only as secretaries of state and other chief election officers but local election administrators and volunteers who pursue this process with almost religious zeal to get it right. And they do such a great job that what we come across are actually mistakes in confusion not criminal wrongdoing. That's very, very rare.

INSKEEP: Matthew Dunlap, thank you very much.

DUNLAP: Thank you.

INSKEEP: He's a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, or he was. And he is not the voiceover guy in Seattle. NPR's Pam Fessler has been listening along with us. Pam, what did you hear there that was significant?

FESSLER: Yeah. I think the secretary makes a very good point that there are a lot of issues that do need to be addressed and that people are addressing such as cleaning up voter rolls because there are a lot of problems with that. And there has been a lot of work being done, and this commission was not doing it.

INSKEEP: Pam, thanks very much.

FESSLER: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Pam Fessler this morning.

(SOUNDBITE OF GOGO PENGUIN'S "SMARRA") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler
Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.