President Donald Trump’s controversial commission on election integrity should meet again in January after being delayed for months because of eight lawsuits demanding its staff’s time, the group’s de facto leader Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach said this week.
Trump set up his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity earlier this year after claiming he lost the popular vote to his opponent, Hillary Clinton, because of 3 to 5 million illegal votes. The group has drawn criticism from organizations that believe it to be a tool for voter suppression.
Eight lawsuits sit in federal court opposing the commission from plaintiffs including one of the commission’s own members and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
“I’m not aware of any presidential commission that has encountered so much litigation from special interest groups,” Kobach said.
Kobach said his commission hasn’t met since September, largely because of that litigation.
“Much of the past few months has been spent by commission staff answering discovery requests for information and drafting affidavits and things that like — going through the legwork of litigation, and that takes time,” Kobach said. “We have a very small staff in Washington, D.C., and that staff has been bogged down in litigation.”
Several lawsuits claim the commission’s efforts to collect personal voter data violate voters’ right to privacy. Others take issue with the group’s transparency protocols. One of the commission’s members, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democrat, claims in a lawsuit that he’s been shut out of the commission’s work and denied documents.
Dunlap’s complaint says he brought the suit “as an action of last resort to enable him to fulfill the oath he took and the obligations to which he committed when he joined the Commission.”
Dunalp criticized Kobach earlier this year for claiming massive voter fraud could have swayed an election in New Hampshire.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law claims in its lawsuit the commission has violated transparency laws. The organization also filed open records requests in October looking for communication between the commission and federal agencies it believes the commission is interested in collaborating with.
Bob Beatty, a Washburn political science professor, said he had not seen such pushback against a presidential commission before.
“The reactions to Kobach have been swift and furious, not just by interest groups, but by states,” Beatty said.
Several states refused to comply when Kobach’s commission asked for data from their voter registration logs. Beatty said one issue for the commission is the “appearance of the tail wagging the dog.” He said the commission had appeared to some as though it was set up to prove Trump’s claims of voter fraud rather than evaluate American elections.
Kobach said he did not think the lawsuits would be successful, but they have been able to stall the work.
“The lawsuits achieve one objective of the plaintiffs and that is simply to delay the work,” Kobach said. “Even if they can’t stop the work of the commission, they can certainly delay it.”