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'A Dark Moment': Voting Rights Groups Condemn Trump's Election Commission

Trump accuses states of hiding information while Pence attempts to give meeting an air of credibility

The Trump administration has alleged that millions of  people cast illegal votes in the 2016 election, but has offered no proof. (Photo: Nicole Klauss/Flickr/cc)

Civil rights advocates are blasting the first meeting of President Donald Trump's so-called "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" which was held Wednesday to begin its supposed mission of assessing "the registration and voting processes used in Federal elections." Critics say the commission is using the non-existent problem of "voter fraud" as a smokescreen to keep minorities and other Democratic voting blocks from casting ballots.

The Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law released a statement following the meeting, condemning the commission's singular focus on so-called "voter fraud."

"In today's meeting, members promoted false and unsubstantiated claims of vote fraud while failing to provide meaningful focus on real problems that threaten our democracy such as ongoing voting discrimination, voter suppression and Russia's interference with our elections," said Kristen Clarke, the group's president. "This Commission represents a dark moment in American democracy and makes clear this administration's hostility to advancing voting rights."

Vice President Mike Pence attempted to open the meeting with a measured stance, noting, "We have no preconceived notions or preordained results"—backpedaling on months of assertions from the Trump administration regarding the notion that illegal voting was rampant in the 2016 election.

Weeks after winning the election Trump saw fit to inform his millions of Twitter followers that he would have won the popular vote, "if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”

The statement was offered, as it has been several times since November, without any sources or information about how the president came to this conclusion.

An extensive analysis of in-person voter fraud (in which a voter pretends to be someone else or a deceased person, in order to vote multiple times and tip the scale toward a favored candidate) done in 2014 by a Loyola Law School professor, found the problem to be extremely rare. Over 14 years of voting the study found 31 cases of in-person fraud, resulting in 241 fraudulent ballots, out of more than one billion total votes.

The Brennan Center for Justice has also analyzed the issue, finding that voter fraud—at most—takes place .0025 percent of the time people cast votes.

Wendy Weiser of the Brennan Center wrote Tuesday that Trump's commission, which has already been confronted with ten legal challenges and lawsuits, will serve to "lay the groundwork for laws that dramatically restrict access to voting, including through strict voter-ID requirements and obstacles to voter registration such as requiring documentary proof of citizenship."

At Wednesday's meeting, Trump criticized states that have refused to comply with the commission's request for the personal information of all voters.

While the president himself has refused to release his tax returns, as every U.S. president has since the 1970s, he suggested that the states' unwillingness to release citizens' private information was evidence of a coordinated fraudulent-voting effort that the states are trying to hide. "If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they are worried about," he said. "There's something, there always is."

On Twitter, some noted the irony of his demand for voters' information.

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