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Our view: State election bosses defend democracy

July 6, 2017 GMT

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is anything but. With Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as vice chairman, it is clear that the panel’s motives are less about preventing fraud than about finding ways to prevent people from voting.

That’s a sweeping statement, yes, but an accurate one. Consider Kobach’s record in Kansas, where the GOP secretary of state has sought to restrict the right to vote, instituting a “show me your papers” law that requires people to show a passport or birth certificate when they register to vote. He blocked some 18,000 motor voter applicants from registering to vote and had to be ordered by a court to fix the problem.

Like the president who appointed him, Kobach claims there is widespread voter fraud in the country — a provably false statement, but the justification for passing laws that make it harder for people to register to vote and eventually vote. After all, if the population of the United States is growing more diverse, it follows that the pool of eligible voters also will change — and those changes heavily favor Democrats, which is why so many in the GOP want to make it harder for those diverse groups to cast ballots.

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Republicans know that the fewer people who vote, the greater chance their party has of winning. That’s why Republican legislatures in various states pass laws making it more difficult to register to vote, requiring voter ID at the polls, cutting back the days for early voting and otherwise attempting to make voting less convenient. Voting rights are under attack in the United States.

President Donald Trump, obsessed with losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost 3 million votes, has said repeatedly — despite evidence to the contrary — that millions of undocumented residents of the U.S. must have voted in the presidential election. It’s how Trump explains the numbers. Thus the commission charged with preventing fraud that does not exist and supposedly restoring the integrity of U.S. elections. An integrity, by the way, that is not threatened by nonexistent fraud but by attempted Russian interference in our electoral process — something the president has refused to address.

For some reason, the commission believes that to carry out its charge, it needs data about voters across the United States. Names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, voting history — even the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number. Some of this information is not publicly available. To gather it in one place would threaten the privacy of private citizens and make people vulnerable to hackers.

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Fortunately for citizens, secretaries of state across the country are just saying no. That includes New Mexico’s Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver, who has said she will not turn over protected voter information to the commission. She said last week, “I will never release the personally identifiable information of New Mexico voters protected by law, including their Social Security number and birthdate. Further, I will not release any other voter information like names, addresses or voting history unless and until I am convinced the information will not be used for nefarious or unlawful purposes, and only if I am provided a clear plan for how it will be secured.”

This denial has been bipartisan, with more than 40 states — Democratic and Republican officials alike — declining much of the sweeping request for information. These election officials, unlike so many in national politics today, are rising above partisanship to think about what is best for citizens.

Good for them, especially the Mississippi secretary of state, who had this reaction after hearing about the request: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

When this foolishness is over — and voting rights advocates expect attacks on the motor voter law, which lets people register while getting a driver’s license — perhaps the nation can turn its attention to the real issue with voting in the United States. Not enough citizens participate.

As The New York Times wrote in an editorial Tuesday: “The real problem, of course, isn’t fraud. It’s low turnout — in a good year, nearly half of all eligible American citizens fail to vote. As the nation marks 241 years of independence, the most pressing voting issue should be getting those tens of millions of nonparticipating Americans registered and to the polls, so that their voices can be heard.”

Making sure all voices are heard, so the true will of the people is carried out — now that would be a mission for a presidential commission, not seeking out fraud that only exists in the minds of the paranoid and partisan.