What We Know About Next Week’s Bogus Voter Fraud Commission Meeting

Andrew Harnik/AP
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The so-called “elections integrity” commission President Trump created after falsely claiming millions voted illegally in 2016’s election posted its agenda for its second meeting, which will be held in New Hampshire next Tuesday. The list of witnesses is a hodgepodge of computer scientists and turnout experts reflecting the pet interests of commission member and meeting host, New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D), as well as fringe figures known to trumpet overblown fears about voter fraud, including one of the commission’s own members.

Gardner told TPM Thursday morning that he was involved in the selection of witnesses testifying on historical voting trends and on election technology. He did not know who was behind the choice of witnesses on the second panel listed on the meeting’s agenda, on “Current Election Integrity Issues Affecting Public Confidence,” a witness list that is tilted towards those with a reputation for pushing restrictive voter laws.

Commission member Hans von Spakovsky — a veteran of President George W. Bush’s Justice Department during an era when the department was scrutinized for politicizing voting rights issues — will be testifying on that panel, according to the agenda. Since leaving the Bush DOJ he and another commission member, fellow Bush DOJ alum J. Christian Adams, have worked on a campaign to threaten localities with lawsuits so that they purge their voter rolls. Another former DOJ official who has been active in those purge efforts, Robert Popper, will join von Spakovsky in testifying on the second panel.

Also testifying is Donald Palmer, a Bipartisan Policy Center fellow who was previously served as secretary of the Virginia Board of Elections, as an appointee of then-Gov. Bob McDonnell (R). On the board, Palmer promoted a move to tighten Virginia’s voter ID protocols and pushed for a voter roll purge that one local clerk found to have a 17 percent error rate. Under his watch, the board also erroneously told 125,000 Virginia voters, via mailers, that they were registered to vote in other states, with Palmer later admitting that mailing was an “administrative error.”

Ken Block, a former Rhode Island politician who is now president of an anti-government-fraud software company, is that panel’s fourth witness. Block recently compiled a report with a conservative think tank, the Government Accountability Institute, alleging that more than 100 Rhode Islanders voted in other states, using a methodology that included data from credit reports and magazine subscriptions.

A spokesman for Vice President Mike Pence, who is chair of the commission, did not respond to TPM’s inquiry as to who chose that panel of witnesses.

The first panel during next week’s meeting is on “Historical Election Turnout Statistics and the Effects of Election Integrity Issues on Voter Confidence” and Gardner told TPM he helped chose some but not all of the witnesses. One witness is University of New Hampshire political scientist professor Andrew Smith and the second is Election Data Services president Kimball Brace, whose work has attracted Gardner’s attention since the 1970s.

“We are going to take a look at the turnout in the ’50s and the ’60s, and the turnout in the ’70s and  ’80s,” Gardner said, adding that he is seeking a “historical perspective” of “where the country is now compared to where it was when states had residency requirements and poll taxes and other things like that.”

However, a dispute has arisen over Gardner’s goals with those witnesses.

Michael McDonald, a University of Florida elections administration expert, tweeted Wednesday night after the agenda was posted that Gardner had talked to him about participating but had expectations about his testimony McDonald was unwilling to meet.

I had conversation with NH SoS Gardner about me participating on a panel. That didn’t happen, obviously https://t.co/vUhyyKNTf8

Gardner confirmed to TPM that he had spoken to McDonald, but denied that he had told McDonald he needed to testify to a certain conclusion.

“I only needed one [witness] for that first panel who was specialist [in voter turn out],” Gardner said.  “I consider Michael McDonald in that category, but Kim Brace has been doing this for 40 years.”

McDonald, when reached by TPM, would not go into details about his conversations with Gardner, but said they talked over an hour and that he also talked to Gardner’s staff “about what the testimony would look like.”

“It was a wide-ranging conversation,” Gardner said.

The final witness on the first panel is John Lott, a conservative writer and gun rights advocate who has suggested “massive” voter fraud may have turned elections in North Carolina, Minnesota and elsewhere.

After the first and second panels is a “Demonstration of Historic New Hampshire Voting Machines Still in Use Since 1892” that will be conducted by some local poll workers, according to the agenda.

This is a passion of Gardner’s, who brought up New Hampshire’s use of the old style voting machines during the first commission meeting and again when speaking to TPM Thursday.

“It’s an example of, ‘If it’s not broke, don’t fix it,'” Gardner said.

The third panel, on “Electronic Voting Systems and Election Integrity,” features witnesses Gardner selected: Andrew Appel and Ronald Rivest, professors of computer science at Princeton and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, respectively, and Harri Hursti, an expert on data security.

Of the absence of women among the witnesses, Gardner pointed to the lack of women in computer science.

“The lawyers’ group is mad because there’s not a woman,” Gardner said, referring to the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which is among the groups currently suing the commission.

“But I’d like to ask, wait until this finishes and then judge whether the facts have ended up being spoken for themselves. That’s not happening. It’s like, destroy this before it even has a chance to do anything,” Gardner said.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tierney Sneed is a reporter for Talking Points Memo. She previously worked for U.S. News and World Report. She grew up in Florida and attended Georgetown University.
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