Trump’s voter fraud panel has gone dark, and members don’t know why
No one seems to know what's going on lately with President Donald Trump's voter fraud commission — not even its own members.
"I have not heard anything since the New Hampshire meeting," the state's secretary of state, Bill Gardner, told NBC News, referring to the commission's Sept. 12 gathering, the panel's most recent.
Alan King, another Democrat serving on the commission, said he can't even get his emails answered.
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"It's my understanding that this commission is supposed to submit its recommendations in March 2018," said King, the chief election official in Jefferson County, Alabama, adding that he was frustrated by the nonresponse. "I’m wondering when you take a two-and-half-month hiatus from meeting. ... I obviously think anyone would have concerns how a deadline like that is supposed to be met."
The commission was formed by President Donald Trump in May to examine the American electoral system, including whether large-scale vote fraud exists. Trump has claimed, without evidence, that millions of people voted illegally last year. Commission members are sharply divided on the issue.
Since its creation, the panel has been mired in controversy.
Early on, it was roundly condemned for seeking massive amounts of voter data from every state, igniting a bipartisan controversy for demanding the sensitive information. Many states have refused to cooperate.
The commission also has been sued by several civil liberties and privacy rights groups, including by one of its own members; multiple ethics watchdogs have filed complaints against it; and a staff member was arrested on child pornography charges. David Dunn, a Democratic member of the panel, died in October, leaving the group with seven Republicans and four Democrats.
Experts who spoke to NBC News, including a former member of President Barack Obama's presidential election commission, criticized the panel's lack of action and transparency.
Tammy Patrick, who was appointed to the commission by Obama in 2013, said that panel, in six months, was able to hold a half-dozen meetings and produce a report on election administration recommendations, some of which were adopted by states around the country.
"It was very much a collaborative effort but a very open and transparent process," she said. "Our motivation was different, our work ethic was different and our output was different."
Trump's panel has held only two public meetings, and at its latest session members clashed over whether there was substantial voter fraud in last year's elections.
The commission is headed by Vice President Mike Pence, but its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an immigration hard-liner and advocate of strict voter identification laws, has largely been its face.
Critics say the commission's work has left little room to begin to address serious questions about the voting process in the country.
"They haven’t said what they intend to do and how," said David Becker, an election expert, referring to the massive voter data collection effort. "I think the longer that question hangs in the air, the more reason people have to doubt how the commission is operating."
However, Logan Churchwell, a representative for Commissioner J. Christian Adams, a Republican, said that the "out of the loop" narrative is "outdated and played out" and that the commission isn't planning to meet again in 2017 because of the holidays.
Meanwhile, three commission members were panelists at a conference in Nashville this month by the influential American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), a well-funded conservative group that pushes state-level legislation.
"Well, I can tell you the greatest foreign influence in our elections are aliens who are getting on the rolls and aliens who are voting," Adams said at the conference.
Another commission member, Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, filed a federal lawsuit in October alleging that the panel has excluded Democratic members like himself from reviewing internal documents and has failed to keep them up to date about its work.
"I’ve made repeated requests about what the commission is working on," Dunlap told NBC News at the time. "I’m asking for a schedule — not the nuclear secrets of the country."
Kobach and Pence's office did not respond to request for comment.