Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap has released 1,800 documents from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI), which he says prove the defunct commission found no evidence of widespread voter fraud. The documents also show the commission sought to collect a massive amount of data about people called for jury duty.

Dunlap, who is a former commission member, obtained the documents for the first time on July 18 through a federal court order. In a letter to Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission co-chairs, Dunlap contradicted the White House’s claim that it found “substantial evidence of voter fraud.”

“Indeed, while staff prepared drafts of a report to be issued by the Commission, the sections on evidence of voter fraud are glaringly empty,” wrote Dunlap. “That the Commission predicted it would find widespread evidence of fraud actually reveals a troubling bias. While individual cases of improper or fraudulent voting occur infrequently, the instances of which I am aware do not provide any basis to extrapolate widespread or systematic problems. The plural of anecdote is not data.”

President Donald Trump formed PACEI in the spring of 2017 to investigate “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices” that could lead to voter fraud. In an attempt to explain why he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton, Trump has repeatedly made the unfounded claim that between 3 and 5 million people voted illegally in the last presidential election. The president’s counselor Kellyanne Conway told “Good Morning America” in 2016 that Kobach, a longtime voter fraud alarmist, was the source of Trump’s unsubstantiated claim. Critics argued that Kobach was more focused on disenfranchising minority and low-income voters with punitive measures that would restrict access to the ballot box.

In November, Dunlap sued the commission after months of unsuccessfully requesting access to the information he needed to meaningfully participate in the PACEI’s investigations. He claimed that the transparency issues began in late June 2017 when Kobach informed commissioners that he would be requesting voting data from states. A majority of secretaries of state — including, ironically, Kobach himself — refused to comply with the commission’s request out of privacy concerns.

In December, a U.S. District Court judge ordered PACEI to provide him with the commission documents. But weeks later, rather than comply with the order, the Trump administration abruptly pulled the plug on the commission, citing its ongoing legal battles. Last month, PACEI finally released the documents after another court order in June.

Vacuuming Voter Data

In addition to containing no evidence of voter fraud, Dunlap said his review of the documents revealed that Kobach intended to ask federal court clerks to turn over lists of individuals deemed ineligible or excused from federal jury services due to death, relocation, convictions, or lack of citizenship. In a template letter to the clerks, Kobach asks for the names, addresses or “other identifying information” and the reason for jury duty ineligibility.

“I have no way of knowing whether these requests were issued or, if not, why not, but Vice Chair Kobach’s and certain commissioners’ cavalier attitude towards vacuuming data is troubling,” wrote Dunlap. “Further, it seems the Commission obtained and apparently planned to use the ‘Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program’ for identifying duplicate voter registrations, a plan not previously made public.”

Kobach, who is slightly ahead of incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer in the Republican primary for Kansas governor at press time, has been sued multiple times for disenfranchising thousands of eligible voters with his 2011 Kansas law that required voters to show a birth certificate, passport or naturalization papers to register to vote. In June, a federal judge struck down the law and even went so far as to order Kobach to take six hours of remedial legal education for failing to adhere to courtroom procedure. Judge Julie Robinson, a George W. Bush appointee, wrote that the court found “no credible evidence that a substantial number of noncitizens registered to vote” and that, instead, Kobach’s law had “acted as a deterrent to registration and voting for substantially more eligible Kansans than it has prevented ineligible voters from registering to vote.”

Judge Robinson also disqualified the testimonies of several of Kobach’s witnesses, which she said were based on “misleading evidence” and “preconceived beliefs about this issue.”  She wrote that Hans von Spakovsky, a “scholar” with the far-right Heritage Foundation and a former member of PACEI, made a “myriad of misleading statements” and “could not identify any expert on the subject of non-citizen voter registration.”

In his letter, Dunlap wrote that the secretive and “questionable” activities of PACEI exemplify why federal law requires federal advisory committees like the commission to be balanced.

“Had I been aware of what the Commission was planning, I could have proposed ideas and witnesses to ensure our proceedings remained objective,” wrote Dunlap. “Instead, a very few commissioners worked to buttress their pre-ordained conclusions shielded from dissent or dialogue from those commissioners not included in the discussions. This is not how any Commission should operate. The public deserves better.”

A 2007 study of elections by the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University of Law found that rates of voter fraud are between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent and that most reported instances are traceable to clerical errors or bad data-matching practices. A comprehensive 2014 study by the Washington Post found 31 “credible instances” of impersonation fraud from 2000 to 2014, out of more than one billion ballots cast. A 2012 report by Maine’s bipartisan Elections Commission, led by former Republican Secretary of State Charlie Summers, determined that the “state enjoys a credible, well-administered elections system.”