The chair of the Republican Party in Chicago last year passed on allegations of voter fraud to a member of President Trump’s now-defunct voter fraud commission, using a top Justice Department official as intermediary, newly released emails reveal.
The emails, which were obtained by the Electronic Privacy Information Center via a Freedom of Information Act request, suggest that Republican officials sought to use the commission as a clearing-house for allegations of voter fraud from around the country, no matter how unsubstantiated.
In one email, Christy McCormick, who was a member of the voter fraud panel, told Acting Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights John Gore that she was seeking to have the voter fraud panel investigate the allegations.
“Hopefully between DOJ and the Commission we can clean up the voter rolls,” McCormick said in one email. McCormick, a Republican, is also a member of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC), the federal agency that helps states administer elections.
As the voter fraud commission became a flashpoint for controversy, Democratic lawmakers and advocacy groups sought information about the level of communication it had with the Justice Department.
Testifying in front of a Senate committee, Attorney General Jeff Sessions denied coordination, but alluded to some level of contact.
“I don’t know that coordinating is correct,” he responded. “We’ve been asked for assistance on several issues.”
Litigation over the commission produced a record of commission communications that referenced a number of emails between McCormick and a DOJ official, including some about Chicago. The newly-released emails provide a fuller picture of exactly what those communications detailed. The Brennan Center, another group that sued the commission, obtained a similar set of emails last month.
Over the course of four months, Chris Cleveland, the chair of Chicago’s Republican Party, reached out to Gore repeatedly about what he described as “discrepancies” between the number of voters on Chicago’s voter rolls and the votes cast in the November 2016 election. Cleveland’s first email to Gore in the FOIA batch was in May, soon after the commission was launched.
Before he was brought on to the Justice Department, Gore was a top Republican elections attorney. Gore was also the DOJ official behind a request that the Census include a citizenship question on its 2020 census — a move civil rights advocates fear will depress minority participation in the survey, which in turn will shift political power to rural and white communities.
The Justice Department declined to comment for this story.
Gore forwarded Cleveland’s emails to McCormick, who said in response that she intended to bring the issue up at the voter fraud commission’s first meeting in July. In another email to Gore in September, before the commission’s second meeting, McCormick said she had sent “the info on the Chicago issue (deleting your email address and messages from it) to the staff of the presidential commission a couple of months ago so we can co super [sic] it and hopefully investigate it.”
Neither McCormick, nor a spokesperson for the Election Assistance Commission, responded to TPM’s questions, including whether there was further investigation of Cleveland’s claims. The issue does not appear have come up at either of the public meetings held by the presidential voter fraud commission before it was disbanded, according to minutes from those meetings.
The Chicago Board of Elections did not respond to TPM’s inquiry, but its spokesperson has previously said that the Republicans’ claims were based on incomplete records of voters.
“Not all voters were entered electronically into the system at first,” board spokesman Jim Allen told the Chicago City Wire last August. “They have since been added.”
Gore eventually put Cleveland directly in touch with McCormick, who told Cleveland in September that she would follow up with commission staff to “find out what they are doing to investigate it.”
“Is Cook County also involved in this particular issue? It does not surprise me at all that they are working on behalf of Democrats,” McCormick said. She asked Cleveland to write up his experiences and suggested he could be brought in front of the voter fraud commission as a witness.
(Chicago is in Cook County, but has its own elections board.)
Cleveland had even harsher words for Chicago’s elections officials:
Cleveland did not immediately respond to TPM’s request for comment.
During the exchanges, McCormick also referenced, in a July email, a letter the Justice Department sent to states concerning their list maintenance efforts under the National Voter Registration Act. That letter that went out the same day as the controversial request from Kris Kobach, the voter fraud commission’s vice chair, for state voter roll data.
“I’ve been reading the stories/conspiracy theories about your NVRA letter and the Commission’s letter going out to the States on the same day and am amused at all the speculation and conclusions in them,” McCormick said. “Hopefully between DOJ and the Commission we can clean up the voter rolls. For the life of me, I don’t know why people should be against cleaning them up. Of course, that’s a rhetorical statement, because I do know why some people are against it. In any case, here’s to continuing to do what’s right for our country and the voters!”
Corrected: This story has been corrected to clarify that the allegations referred to the Chicago Board of Elections, not Cook County Clerk’s Office.