By Lambert Strether of Corrente.
On May 11, Trump established the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity” by executive order. The Times has an editorial (“Trump’s Fraudulent Voter-Fraud Commission”) decrying it, but it’s noteworthy that neither the Executive Order nor the Times editorial mention two elephants in the room on election integrity:
(1) Inexorably declining voter participation. The American Presidency Project shows a yearly decline of turnout as a percentage of the voting population from from 62.77% in 1960 to 54.87% in 2012 (low by world standards). Can a democratic system really be said to have “integrity” if only a bare majority of voters find it worthwhile to participate? (One can only wonder why that would be.)
(2) Voting systems that are easy to game. The world standard is hand-marked paper ballots hand-counted in public. The United States has not adopted it. Can a democratic system be said to have “integrity” of election theft is easily practiced?
If the first item is not on the agenda, it means that expanding the size of the electorate is not on the agenda, whether in the White House or at The Times. And if the second item is not on the agenda, that means that ensuring citizens that their votes do count is not on the agenda either. Making a battle of “election integrity” more than a little farcical.
In this brief post, I’m going to look at the text of the Executive Order and contextualize it.
Sec. 2. Membership. The Vice President shall chair the Commission, which shall be composed of not more than 15 additional members. The President shall appoint the additional members, who shall include individuals with knowledge and experience in elections, election management, election fraud detection, and voter integrity efforts, and any other individuals with knowledge or experience that the President determines to be of value to the Commission. The Vice President may select a Vice Chair of the Commission from among the members appointed by the President.
And the personnel of the Commission, from the White House press conference announcing it:
[SARAH SANDERS] I’d like to announce that the President also just signed another executive order establishing a bipartisan presidential advisory commission on election integrity. This will be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. The President is committed to the thorough review of registration and voting issues in federal elections. And that’s exactly what this commission is tasked with doing.
The bipartisan commission will be made up of around a dozen members, including current and former Secretaries of State, with Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach serving as vice chair. It will also include individuals with knowledge and experience in elections, election management, election fraud detection, and voter integrity efforts.
Five additional members that have been announced as of today — Connie Lawson, the Secretary of State of Indiana; Bill Gardner, Secretary of State of New Hampshire; Matthew Dunlap, the Secretary of State of Maine; Ken Blackwell, former Secretary of State of Ohio; and Christy McCormack, a commissioner on Election Assistance Commission.
I’m not sure why the Commission was announced if all the membership slots were unfilled, that seems odd. I was also surprised to find that the Commission actually is [genuflects] bipartisan: Connie Lawson (R, Indiana); Bill Gardener (D, New Hampshire); Matthew Dunlap (D, Maine), Ken Blackwell (R, Ohio). It’s worth noting that both Lawson and Pence, and Ken Blackwell, have been involved in election integrity episodes that some might characterize as sketchy. (Christy A. McCormick is from the Election Assistance Commission, and implements the horrid Help America Vote Act, which got so many hackable electronic voting machines installed, as well as an abortive plan to get state proof-of-citizenship information onto the Federal registration form.)
But the really horrid appointment is Kris Kobach as Vice-Chair. The Times editorial is shockingly weak on this point. They write:
In contrast, Mr. Trump has put his commission in the hands of Kris Kobach, a hard-line conservative from Kansas who is the nation’s most aggressive peddler of the voter-fraud myth.
Mr. Kobach — who has managed to obtain just nine convictions for voter fraud since 2015, most for voting in two states — thinks he is standing on the “tip of the iceberg.” He claims he can’t understand why voting-rights advocates resist a deeper inquiry into fraud. “What are they afraid of? Why do they not want to know these numbers?” he asked.
No, no, no, no, no. The real problem with Kobach is not that he’s an “aggressive peddler” of “the voter-fraud myth,” but that he’s an aggressive promoter of the notorious — well, it should be notorious — CrossCheck system, that denied many thousands of citizens their votes, but which the Times does not mention. Greg Palast has a long article in Rolling Stone explaining how lousy CrossChecks’ data and algorithms are, and I’ll pick the most gloriously horrid examples:
We were able to obtain more lists – Georgia and Washington state, the total number of voters adding up to more than 1 million matches – and Crosscheck’s results seemed at best deeply flawed. We found that one-fourth of the names on the list actually lacked a middle-name match. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. A whole lot of people named “James Brown” are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone. But according to Crosscheck, James Willie Brown is supposed to be the same voter as James Arthur Brown. James Clifford Brown is allegedly the same voter as James Lynn Brown.
And those promised birth dates and Social Security numbers? The Crosscheck instruction manual says that “Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match” – which leaves a crucial step in the identification process up to the states. Social Security numbers weren’t even included in the state lists we obtained.
We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”
Data people, are you laughing or crying? And oddly, or not, the errors seemed to be directional:
Swedlund’s statistical analysis found that African-American, Latino and Asian names predominate, a simple result of the Crosscheck matching process, which spews out little more than a bunch of common names. No surprise: The U.S. Census data shows that minorities are overrepresented in 85 of 100 of the most common last names. If your name is Washington, there’s an 89 percent chance you’re African-American. If your last name is Hernandez, there’s a 94 percent chance you’re Hispanic. If your name is Kim, there’s a 95 percent chance you’re Asian.
Palast gives the effects on a particular election:
Crosscheck in action: Trump victory margin in Michigan: 13,107 Michigan Crosscheck purge list: 449,922 Trump victory margin in Arizona: 85,257 Arizona Crosscheck purge list: 270,824 Trump victory margin in North Carolina: 177,008 North Carolina Crosscheck purge list: 589,393
Of course, if voter registration were a core party function, Kobach’s CrossCheck wouldn’t have been able to do the dirty in Michigan and Arizona and North Carolina, but it is what it is and we are where we are.
If Repblicans were the only members on the Commission, one might indeed call it “The Commission to Round Up the Usual Suspects,” and suspect it was established to prove a particular thesis:
Repeatedly, throughout the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump claimed that the 2016 election was “absolutely being rigged.” Not only in the sense of an allegedly distorted media narrative, “but also at many polling places.” He specifically claimed, for example, that there was “large scale voter fraud happening on and before election day.”
The President has already come to a widely publicized conclusion with respect to the issue. The Co-Chair of the Commission has done the same. If an “investigation” starts with its own firm conclusion, it is not an investigation. It is either a witch hunt or a snipe hunt. Or both.
Sec. 3. Mission. The Commission shall, consistent with applicable law, study the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections. The Commission shall be solely advisory and shall submit a report to the President that identifies the following:
(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;
(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and
(c) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.
The key word here is “confidence,” which doesn’t inspire, well, confidence; voters are often confident in a system where their candidates win! Election Academy:
The third subsection is what you might have expected, but the first two (“enhance/undermine”) focus not on the election system but Americans’ confidence in the system. As we’ve seen many times over the years, voter confidence often has little correlation to the actual conduct of elections but actually tracks other partisan or policy views – or even whether or not the preferred candidate won in the most recent election.
In addition, the focus on confidence makes the Commission a public relations exercise at best. The Vermont Secretary of State:
Fine print: not about investigating what undermines the ACTUAL integrity of elections, but how Americans FEEL about election integrity. https://t.co/Ep1rzJrpgm
— VT Sec. of State (@VermontSOS) May 11, 2017
Finally, the Mission seems almost designed to exacerbate partisan division. Election Updates:
Election integrity is the principal dimension over which Democrats and Republicans differ when they think about the main problems of election policy, both at the mass and elite levels. For instance, in my own module of the 2016 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, I asked respondents to place themselves on a five-point continuum, based on which of the following statements was closest to their own opinion: (1) It is important to make voting as easy as possible, even if there are some security risks, vs. (2) It is important to make voting as secure as possible, even if voting is not easy. Here is how partisans distributed themselves among these answers:
This pattern recurs on virtually all questions on this survey — and others like it — that touch on security vs. access. Bottom line: This is a commission focused on problems that Republicans will resonate with and Democrats won’t. Unlike the last presidential commission on election issues, the Bauer-Ginsberg PCEA, the Pence Commission seems like a body that will primarily reinforce partisan lines and gridlock on hot-button election issues.
Taking both the personnel and the mission of the Commission into account, it’s hard to argue with what Sanders says:
“The sole purpose of this commission is to propagate a myth and to give encouragement to Republican governors and state legislators to increase voter suppression,” said Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who challenged Clinton for the Democratic presidential nomination.
If I were a Democratic Strategist, I’d recommend using the Advisory Commission as a bully pulpit for expanding the electorate and hand-marked paper ballots hand-counted in public, and be sure to include a Minority Report that raised those issues, and gets them into the “national conversation.” That’s unlikely to happen, which tells you the real problem with election integrity; neither the parties nor the political class really want it.
 For example, the Ossoff race in GA-06:
The April contest was conducted following multiple hacks on various offices, stolen electronic poll books that included a copy of Georgia’s statewide voter file, and a software system with such gaping security holes that the author of one report questioned if the gaps were a deliberate back door left open for potential manipulation. This is not the first time the question of software back doors on voting equipment has arisen. In a February 2017 article in the New Republic, Steve Friess wrote, “The machines are prone to malfunctions and miscounts, and many have back doors that can enable attackers to alter the outcome by infecting them with malware.”
The race is being widely viewed as a barometer of the Democrats 2018 midterm prospects. But unless Georgia heeds the advice of over 20 national and international computer experts and implements paper ballots and post-election audits in its upcoming June 20 race, the face off between Democratic newcomer Jon Ossoff and former Republican Secretary of State Karen Handel is likely to produce results that many voters will question.
 Both parties do it. Washington Post: “But the redistricting bill that emerged this year in Annapolis — in equal parts cynical and ludicrous — makes clear that the Democrats who dominate both houses of the General Assembly there remain loath to part with the incumbent-protection racket that enables them to choose their voters and perpetuate their grip on power with scant regard for good governance.” Nate Silver: “[W}hen it comes to scheduling off-cycle elections like those taking place today, the Democratic Party is the champion of voter suppression.”
 I identify “Voter Registration Not Core Party Function” as a critical “pathway to misfortune” for Clinton in 2016, with black, Hispanic, and rural voters.