WASHINGTON — House Democrats blasted President Donald Trump’s vote fraud commission Tuesday, demanding the dismissal of co-chair Kris Kobach ahead of the group's first public meeting Wednesday morning.
Attendees at a voting rights forum, which included 15 Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee as well as state election officials, privacy and civil rights advocates, laid out concerns regarding the commission’s recent letter requesting sensitive voter data and said it is setting the groundwork for voter suppression.
In a lengthy letter, the top Democrats on four House committees called on Vice President Mike Pence, the panel’s chair, to remove Kobach, Kansas' secretary of state, from the Commission on Election Integrity and rescind the panel's request for voter data. The letter also raised concerns about privacy and security of the data requested and questioned the political motivations of Kobach, an immigration hardliner and a prominent advocate for strict voter identification laws.
“Mr. Kobach should step down as Vice-Chair and be replaced with an individual who can be trusted to ensure the commission operates in a bipartisan manner to protect voter information,” the members said in a statement.
On Wednesday, Kobach responded to calls for his ouster during an appearance on Fox News.
"I think they want me removed because I’ve been fighting voter fraud in my state of Kansas for over six years now, and have been very specific about what we need to do and what other states should also consider doing," Kobach said. "I guess they just don’t want someone heading the commission as vice chair who knows this issue and knows how to get at the problem. It’s a baffling letter — why wouldn’t you want someone with some experience in the area to study the issue?"
Kobach sent the request for voter data to secretaries of states last month. It was met with swift backlash from officials in both parties and prompted a flurry of lawsuits. It also inspired thousands of voters to remove themselves from voter rolls, fearing their personal information would be compromised, despite 48 states not fully complying with the commission’s request.
“The right of Americans to vote is under assault, an a assault that began shortly after the November election,” said John Conyers, D-Mich., the ranking member on the Judiciary Committee, referring to Trump’s unfounded claim that “millions” voted illegally.
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Trump formed the commission this past May through executive order to study “vulnerabilities” in the election system.
“We cannot stand idly by while this most precious right…is attacked by the head of our own government,” Conyers added.
Civil and voting rights advocates at the forum echoed lawmaker concerns.
“This administration has mobilized one of the most dangerous efforts to promote voter suppression that we have seen in modern time,” said Kristen Clarke, the executive director of the national Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Her organization filed a federal lawsuit against the panel asking for a temporary restraining order, which was denied by a judge Tuesday. The organization said it plans to appeal.
“The true goals of this commission have been shrouded in secret — that’s why we have been using the courts,” she said Tuesday.
State elections officials, meanwhile, said at the forum that they are fearful of where the panel’s work is headed.
“I’m really afraid this commission is going in the direction that the states will be required to purge lists,” said Denise Merrill, the Connecticut Secretary of State and a Democrat.
Alison Grimes, Kentucky's secretary of state, isn't convinced that the commission is committed to election integrity, calling it “an insecurity to losing to the popular vote” for Trump.
“It smells a little like something I’m familiar with in Kentucky and that’s manure,” said Grimes, a Democrat.