Congress: Bring election regulations into digital age


By Kelly Hawes

President Donald J. Trump has dissolved the commission he appointed to root out voter fraud.

He formed the commission last spring in an effort to back up his much disputed claim he would have defeated Hillary Clinton in the popular vote if it not for as many as 5 million votes cast illegally. The Presidential Commission on Election Integrity held two public meetings, and its efforts met with bipartisan resistance.

In announcing the body’s demise, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders insisted there was “substantial evidence of voter fraud.” She said the commission had come up short because many states refused to provide the voter data it needed, and she said the president had asked the Department of Homeland Security to take over the assignment.

Critics hailed the announcement.

“The commission never had anything to do with election integrity,” Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said in a statement. “It was instead a front to suppress the vote, perpetrate dangerous and baseless claims, and was ridiculed from one end of the country to the other. This shows that ill-founded proposals that just appeal to a narrow group of people won’t work, and we hope they’ll learn this lesson elsewhere.”

Jason Kander, Missouri’s Democratic secretary of state and president of the advocacy group Let America Vote, also applauded the president’s decision.

“President Trump created his sham voting commission to substantiate a lie he told about voter fraud in the 2016 election,” Kander told the Chicago Tribune. “When he couldn’t come up with any fake evidence, and under relentless pressure, he had no choice but to disband his un-American commission. … Good riddance.”

Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Voting Rights Project, also welcomed the announcement.

“This commission was a sham from the start, and everyone recognized it,” he said in a written statement. “We are proud of the role that the ACLU’s litigation had in ending this charade.”

Still, it’s probably too early to break out the champagne.

Charles Stewart III, co-director of the Caltech/MIT Voting Technology Project and the founding director of the MIT Election Data and Science Lab, says the fight is far from over.

“It’s a tactical victory, but the conflict has shifted from the open battlefield to trench warfare,” he wrote in an essay for The Washington Post.

Stewart says handing off the commission’s assignment to a federal agency means the fight will continue, but in a way that is less open to public scrutiny.

And the fact is any time spent chasing phantom voter fraud is time taken away from the real issues facing this nation’s election system.

Stewart says what the federal government should be focused on is replacing the nation’s aging voting machines and “making the information systems surrounding elections more secure and resilient in the face of mounting threats.”

“Securing voter information systems against cyberthreats is more a political and administrative challenge than a technical one,” he wrote. “The decentralized nature of election administration provides some protection against certain threats, but it also opens up thousands of soft spots.”

He insists this shouldn’t be a partisan issue.

“All election administrators, Democrats and Republicans, lose sleep over noncitizens getting on the voting rolls,” he wrote. “They would like to find better ways to cooperate with the federal government over this issue.”

Stewart notes the National Voter Registration Act of 1994 was written for a time when voter records were maintained with pencil and paper. It’ll take a bipartisan effort, he said, to bring those regulations into the digital age.

Kelly Hawes is a columnist for CNHI newspapers in Indiana. Send comments to [email protected].

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