Kobach’s elec­tion com­mis­sion doesn’t care what the facts are

The Oklahoman - - OPINION - E. J. Dionne Jr. ej­dionne@ wash­post.com

WASH­ING­TON —

It is nei­ther para­noid nor alarmist to be­gin ask­ing if the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion plans to ra­tio­nal­ize block­ing a large num­ber of vot­ers who op­pose the pres­i­dent from cast­ing bal­lots in 2018 and 2020. And it is im­per­a­tive that the civic-minded of all par­ties de­mand the dis­band­ing of a gov­ern­ment com­mis­sion whose very ex­is­tence is based on a lie.

The ly­ing doesn’t stop.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas sec­re­tary of state, is vice chair­man of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Elec­tion In­tegrity. Kobach chose to use a meet­ing of the com­mis­sion held in New Hamp­shire on Tues­day to con­tinue to cast doubt on the state’s elec­tion re­sults even af­ter his charges of voter fraud had fallen apart.

That Kobach had ini­tially made his case on Bre­it­bart, the right-wing web­site, is a sign that the man in charge of what is sup­posed to be a sober in­quiry is sim­ply a pro­pa­gan­dist. (Vice Pres­i­dent Pence is the nom­i­nal chair of the com­mis­sion, but he has a few other things to do.)

Here’s how Kobach con­fected his Bre­it­bart tale. New Hamp­shire al­lows would-be vot­ers to reg­is­ter on Elec­tion Day. Kobach noted that 6,540 same­day reg­is­trants used out-of-state driver’s li­censes to ver­ify their iden­tity.

This is per­fectly le­gal un­der New Hamp­shire law, but Kobach’s “aha!” mo­ment was to re­veal that

af­ter the elec­tion” (the damn­ing ital­ics are his), only 1,227 of the 6,540 had ei­ther ob­tained New Hamp­shire driver’s li­censes or reg­is­tered a ve­hi­cle. Ergo, Kobach con­cluded of the re­main­der, “It seems that they never were

res­i­dents of the state.”

And then he took sev­eral more leaps. First he la­beled the 5,313 as “fraud­u­lent votes.” Then he noted that Demo­crat Mag­gie Has­san de­feated then-in­cum­bent Repub­li­can Sen. Kelly Ay­otte by 1,017 votes. His explosive claim: If 59.2 per­cent or more of these fake vot­ers went for Has­san, “the elec­tion was stolen through voter fraud.”

Kobach pegged Hil­lary Clin­ton’s mar­gin over Don­ald Trump in the state at 2,732, so by his reck­on­ing, she could have been put over the top if 74.8 per­cent of these al­leged fraud­sters went her way.

It all sounds nice and sci­en­tific. Here’s the prob­lem: Backed by other elec­tion law spe­cial­ists, New Hamp­shire’s Sec­re­tary of State Bill Gard­ner, a Demo­cratic mem­ber of the com­mis­sion, noted that Kobach sim­ply ig­nored what the state’s elec­tion law ac­tu­ally says. It al­lows vot­ing by those “domi­ciled” in the state — peo­ple who spend most of their nights in New Hamp­shire — and not just “res­i­dents.” Yes, they can vote even if they have driver’s li­censes from other states.

This cat­e­gory in­cludes col­lege stu­dents, and New Hamp­shire Pub­lic Ra­dio found that the high­est rates of vot­ing us­ing outof-state IDs oc­curred in col­lege towns. So Kobach’s charges of fraud are them­selves fraud­u­lent, but he can’t seem to ad­mit out­right that he was sim­ply wrong. In­stead, sound­ing like a nov­el­ist, he said at the com­mis­sion meet­ing on Tues­day that he might not have found “the right word” to de­scribe the sit­u­a­tion. He asked plain­tively “if it’s pos­si­ble to con­dense a com­plex le­gal is­sue into an 800-word col­umn.”

Such af­ter-the-fact hu­mil­ity doesn’t ex­plain his will­ing­ness to shoot first and check the facts later, or why he was still ques­tion­ing the 2016 re­sult. Ab­sent more data, he said, “we will never know the an­swer re­gard­ing the le­git­i­macy of this par­tic­u­lar elec­tion.”

But we do know the an­swer. It was le­git­i­mate. We also know the an­swer to the ques­tion about the ex­is­tence of in-per­son voter fraud: There is al­most none of it. This is true de­spite Trump’s ground­less post-elec­tion claim that 3 mil­lion to 5 mil­lion il­le­gal votes were cast in 2016.

We should, in­deed, be dis­cussing ways of mak­ing our elec­tions much bet­ter. We could build on the 2014 re­port from a gen­uinely bi­par­ti­san com­mis­sion led by two bat­tle-hard­ened elec­tion lawyers, Repub­li­can Ben Gins­berg and Demo­crat Bob Bauer.

Kobach’s com­mis­sion, how­ever, is just look­ing for ways to jus­tify new bar­ri­ers to vot­ing by groups not in­clined to sup­port Trump, and it doesn’t care what the facts are.

We do not need an of­fi­cial gov­ern­ment body whose job is to spin fic­tional hor­ror sto­ries.

WASH­ING­TON POST WRIT­ERS GROUP

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