This last week the childish vitriol emanating from the White House – and you know I mean the infamous Mika-Joe tweet tantrum – finally just did me in. It struck me that surely nobody, but nobody, outside his crowd of dim-witted sycophants, could take the clown-in-charge seriously, and perhaps we could all just start ignoring him and concentrate on the real threats presented by the usual GOP suspects who are plugging along, doing yeoman duty on behalf of the oligarchy. But no such luck. The problem with venal crazy in high places is that it puts out tendrils and if you’re not careful, it’ll leave its slimy trails all over your own backyard.
In this case the slime trail leads from Trump’s ironically named Election Integrity Commission, which is headed up by noted voter suppression guru, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and, nominally, by Vice-President Mike Pence who, as Governor of Indiana, had his own voter suppression scandals. This commission is ostensibly an outgrowth of Donald Trump’s conviction that he would surely have won the popular vote instead of losing by three million votes were it not for voter fraud – especially voter fraud involving “illegal aliens” illegally voting. However, the commission, given its personnel and the nature of its charge, also provides an excellent tool for furthering GOP voter suppression goals, not an insignificant consideration for a president with a seriously negative approval rating who’s already holding fundraisers for his 2020 presidential run.
It’s interesting that the Election Integrity Commission’s charge is not, as one might expect if it were legitimately concerned with election integrity, to look into the very real possibility that Russia hacked election machines in 2016, but to “to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote” – in spite of the fact that there is no evidence that that principle is in any way at risk. In essence, its members will ignore the biggest threat to election integrity that we’ve seen for over a hundred years in order to concentrate on unsupported accusations of domestic voter fraud.
As a first step, the Commission has demanded the voter registration rolls of all 50 states, including full names, address, DOB, military status, criminal history, political party affiliation, voter record from 2006 forward, and the last four Social Security number digits of every voter. Kobach has implied that this information will be used in conjunction with other databases to determine whether or not (1) non-citizens have voted, (2) citizens have voted fraudulently via duplicate registrations; and/or (3) whether there are large numbers of moribund names on the voter rolls – which would not indicate fraud per se, but which could trigger demands for voter roll purges that, incidentally, are one of Kobach’s hallmark voter suppression tricks.
Given Kobach’s past performance, you can be sure that the Commission will likely affirm all three possibilities – he has, after all, notoriously used just this type of data to produce what experts in data analysis describe as spurious results that he has nevertheless used to disenfranchise thousands of voters. According to one analysis, the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, the analytic tool promoted by Kobach to compare voter rolls, “disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters.” His probity is such that he was recently fined a thousand dollars for lying in court about documents concerning voter eligibility requirements.
Which brings us to Missouri and its Secretary of State, Republican Jay Ashcroft, the man charged with safeguarding the state’s voter rolls. While as many as a dozen states have refused to comply with the demand for their voter’s private information – including five deep red states that went heavily for Trump – around twenty have indicated that they will only comply with the demand insofar as they are permitted to do so by their respective state laws – they will only deliver information that is otherwise available to the public. Ashcroft has put Missouri among the latter group. He posted this statement on the Webpage of the Office of the Secretary of State:
For 40 years under Missouri law (Ch. 115.157, RSMo) certain data is publicly available. The commission’s letter asks for ‘publicly-available’ information, which we would share with any person or organization making an open records request. We will protect Missourians’ private information. The laws of each state are different, and in Missouri, some of the data requested by the commission is open to the public. We plan to comply by providing publicly-available information per state law.
The commission’s questions are fair and we will be glad to assist in offering our thoughts on these important matters. I look forward to working with Secretary Kris Kobach and the commission on its findings and offer our support in the collective effort to enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the elections process.
Personally, I’ve got nothing against sharing publicly available data with the commission provided that they pay any charges that other members of the public might be expected to pay. But did you notice how conciliatory Ashcroft’s statement is? Butter wouldn’t melt, as they say.
Of course, as Tony Messenger has ably pointed out, Ashcroft’s friendly response is more than a little hypocritical coming from the representative of a Missouri Republican party that has been throwing hysterical fits about the violation of privacy represented by the federal Real ID requirements and a proposed state-wide opioid database, as well as efforts to make campaign spending a bit more transparent. All well and good, but it strikes me that the real story is the welcoming tenor of Ashcroft’s response along with the fact that, so far at least, I’ve not heard of any anguished squeals coming from the state’s erstwhile fervid GOP defenders of privacy or states’ rights.
Ashcroft certainly is in stark contrast to many other Secretaries of State, even many of those who have also agreed to turn over the pieces of data that are otherwise publicly available. Many have voiced concerns about the security of files that contain sensitive information, as well as propriety of participating in what rather obviously seems to be, in the words of Kentucky’s Alison Grimes, an exercise that is “at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”
If you have any doubts abut the goals of the commission, Richard Hassan describes its slap-dash nature:
There is no professional staff, a B-list of token Democrats to give the commission a bipartisan veneer, and the work is being done out of the Executive Office of the President. (Given that Trump is an announced candidate for the next presidential election, he’s hardly a person who can be counted on for a fair and impartial review.)
Most importantly, the commission includes a rogue’s gallery of the country’s worst voter suppressors. Not just Kobach, but former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell, who was notorious for rejecting Ohio voter registration forms because they were not printed on heavy enough paper. And on Thursday, Trump added Hans von Spakovsky, one of the original leaders of what I termed the Fraudulent Fraud Squad.
And yet our Secretary of State looks forward to collaborating with a panel that all but proclaims it’s intention are anything but election integrity.
Ashcroft’s stance, though, may not really so surprising. He is, after all, a staunch advocate the state’s new Voter ID law which most of us know is no more than a subterfuge meant to depress Democratic voting turnout. Just consider Ashcroft’s implementation efforts so far if you are still inclined to give him the benefit of the doubt. It is his job to ensure that Missourians are prepared for the changes in voter requirements which went into effect in June. Significantly, according to an editorial in the Kansas City Star, days before the effective date there was still “much confusion.”
Ashcroft has done little to change that situation and it doesn’t appear likely that his educational campaign will ever rise above the perfunctory. To date, Ashcroft seems to be actively trying to get the word out to as few as possible. He has pooh-pooed the need to allocate adequate funds to send mailers out to educate the public about the new law. Instead he has opted to hold a spate of meetings across the state, often, according some attendees, involving no more than 20-30 people – meetings which are supposed to inform millions of Missourians about a major change in voting requirements. Nor has anyone I’ve talked to been able to tell me if Ashcroft’s informational meetings have involved any effort to target audiences that are most likely to be affected negatively by the new law. Finally, according to reports about the contents of his “informational” meetings, he is so uninterested in alleviating the potential negative effects of the law that he is often unable to answer pertinent questions about how the law will work.
To summarize, Ashcroft has done the bare minimum to educate Missourians about the new law, a law with the potential to disenfranchise many legitimate voters. He has made a quick speaking tour and posted some informational documents on the Webpage of the Secretary of State’s Office. The Head of the Springfield NAACP has noted that “the law and its rollout remains complicated and confusing,” adding that “we also believe the plans for notification for all who may be affected to be insufficient.”
Do any of these facts help you understand why Secretary of State Ashcroft isn’t worried about violating your privacy in this instance? Do you think he might be serving a “bigger,” more partisan, cause? Doesn’t it seem obvious why our Secretary of State is so willing to run in tandem with Kris Kobach’s voter suppression machine?
If you think you know the answers to those questions, and you don’t like what you know, you can always call one Maura Browning, the Communications Director in the Office of the Missouri Secretary of State and register your objections. The number is: (573) 526-0949