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President Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity holds its first public meeting on Wednesday under what seems to be an ever-expanding cloud.
The panel has faced credibility problems right from the start, and the concerns have only grown:
"They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from," said Mississippi's Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, in response to the panel's request for voter data.
Echoing other Democrats and voting rights advocates, California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said the commission has been set up to justify new voting restrictions — such as strict photo ID requirements — that could impose barriers to legitimate voters, especially minorities.
"California's participating would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the president, the vice president and Mr. Kobach," said Padilla.
In a recent interview with NPR, Kobach dismissed concerns that the commission is trying to impose stricter voting restrictions by changing federal laws.
"I know that most states prefer to keep the control of elections at the state level, and so federal legislation hasn't been warmly received by the states," he said. "The commission may see that there's a particular problem and may recommend to the states, 'Hey, you individual states might want to consider adopting this bill or that bill.' That's possible, but again, I don't know what the commission will decide."
However, as part of a legal challenge by the American Civil Liberties Union to Kobach's efforts to impose proof-of-citizenship requirements on Kansas voters, it was revealed that he hoped to revise a federal voting law to allow such requirements, as first reported by the Huffington Post.
The commission's first meeting comes as more details of Russian attempts to attack parts of the nation's elections system during the 2016 campaign have emerged.
Padilla, the California secretary of state, accused the Trump administration of attempting to "discredit or ignore" the intelligence community's assessment about the Russian government's role in those efforts while focusing on issues such as voter fraud.
In fact, the panel's leaders have said they plan to look at any problems with the nation's voting system that undermine public confidence in the integrity of federal elections. In his letter to states requesting the voter data, Kobach also asked for recommendations on how to prevent voter intimidation or disenfranchisement and on how to help "state and local election administrators with regard to information technology security and vulnerabilities."
Still, many election officials are skeptical that the White House commission can offer much new to the debate over how to improve elections, something state and local officials have been talking about and working on for years.
In response to Kobach's request for voter data and advice, Colorado's Republican secretary of state, Wayne Williams, sent a nine-page letter that begins: "Elections are working well in Colorado."
Williams said voter fraud in his state is rare but suggested that the federal government encourage more states to participate in a multistate effort already underway to clean up voter registration lists, called the Electronic Registration Information Center. He also said federal agencies should share with states any information they have related to hacking attempts and other threats to their election systems. Many election officials say they're far more concerned about election cybersecurity and aging voting equipment than fraud.
How much the commission will dwell on these topics is unknown. The agenda for the first public meeting is sparse — members will be introduced and are then scheduled to talk for about an hour about what topics they would like the commission to address.
Correction: July 19, 2017 12:00 am — A previous version of this story incorrectly referred to the Election Registration and Information Center. It is actually the Electronic Registration Information Center.
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