The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Monday against President Donald Trump's commission on so-called "voter fraud," arguing the controversial panel has operated under a level of secrecy that violates federal law.
The 15-member commission held a private meeting via telephone on June 28, during which Vice Chairman Kris Kobach announced the group's plan to request information on all registered voters from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
In its complaint, the ACLU said the private meeting violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA), which mandates that all advisory committee meetings are open to the public.
“The commission held its first meeting without notice or making it open to the public," said Theresa Lee, a staff attorney with the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. "This process is cloaked in secrecy, raising serious concerns about its credibility and intent. What are they trying to hide?”
The Commission on Election Integrity was formed by Trump to investigate his claim that millions of undocumented immigrants voted in the 2016 election. The theory has been promoted by the president and right-wing news outlets including InfoWars.com, despite a lack of credible evidence.
In its suit, the ACLU argued that "the commission was established for the purpose of providing a veneer of legitimacy to President Trump's false claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election—once millions of supposedly illegal votes are subtracted from the count."
The ACLU also said in its complaint that the commission couldn't possibly make a fair determination about the validity of the president's claim, because many of the 15 members have publicly supported it—another violation of FACA.
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"In stacking the Commission with individuals who have already publicly supported President Trump's false statements regarding purported illegal voting," says the ACLU's lawsuit, "President Trump has not [required] the membership of the advisory committee be fairly balanced in terms of the points of view represented..."
It isn't the first time the commission has drawn criticism. At least 44 states have so far refused to turn over information about voters to the committee, with state officials releasing strong statements coming out against the commission.
"My response to the Commission is, you're not going to play politics with Louisiana's voter data," said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, "and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That's it."
Connecticut's Secretary of State cited concerns about Kris Kobach's history of fighting alleged "voter fraud." As the Secretary of State of Kansas, Kobach fought unsuccessfully to require proof of citizenship on voter registration forms, and backed a law that would allow states to check their voter rolls for overlaps. Critics say the latter law would have resulted in many legitimate voters being eliminated from voter rolls.
"This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the Vice Chair of the Commission ...has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas," said Denise Merrill. "Given Sec. Kobach's history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission."
The ACLU has also called Kobach "the King of Voter Suppression," in light of his fixation on ridding the election system of alleged fraud.