WASHINGTON – Just one day after he disbanded his controversial commission investigating allegations of voter fraud, President Trump called for new voter identification laws – and again claimed many people are casting ballots illegally.
“As Americans, you need identification, sometimes in a very strong and accurate form, for almost everything you do…..except when it comes to the most important thing, VOTING for the people that run your country,” Trump tweeted. “Push hard for Voter Identification!”
As Americans, you need identification, sometimes in a very strong and accurate form, for almost everything you do…..except when it comes to the most important thing, VOTING for the people that run your country. Push hard for Voter Identification!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
But national voting rights and civil rights activists said the commission and Trump’s call for new laws is just a pretext’ to suppress voter participation particularly among the poor, the elderly and people of color.
“I’m thrilled that the commission has been disbanded, but also will definitely keep an eye on what it is that these players will do in the next steps,” said Kathy Culliton-Gonzales, senior counsel for Demos, a public policy group.
Culliton-Gonzales and other activists credit legal challenges and fierce opposition from voting rights and civil rights groups for the demise of the commission.
“The fight is not over,” she said.
A number of Republican-run state legislatures have passed new voter identification laws of the kind backed by Trump. Supporters of the laws, mostly Republicans, say they protect against voter fraud.
Voting rights groups have been challenging voter ID laws for years, arguing they disproportionately impact voters of color.
Thirty four states request or require voters to show ID as the polls, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
Under the Obama administration, the Justice Department had challenged several strict voter ID laws, including one in Texas. The Trump administration, however, reversed that position early last year.
Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program said she’s concerned that in addition to voter ID laws there are also threats to voting rights, including state purges of registration rolls.
Perez said Trump probably wants more states to push strict voter ID laws.
“What I hope would give some states some pause is that strict-photo IDs like the one in Texas, like the one in North Carolina, have been met with fierce opposition and resistance,” she said.
Trump also took aim Thursday at “many mostly Democrat states” that refused to hand over data to the commission created last May, saying they “know that many people are voting illegally.”
Many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 Election to the Commission On Voter Fraud. They fought hard that the Commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 4, 2018
Trump signed an executive order late Wednesday disbanding the election integrity commission, saying he didn’t want to waste taxpayer money fighting with state governments over their voter data. Trump created the commission after claiming that at least 3 million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election — enough to make up for Hillary Clinton’s lead in the popular vote.
Yet state and local election officials, including some Republicans, said they refused hand over voter information because of privacy concerns as well as the fact there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud. Democrats said they feared commissioners would seek ways to make voting harder, especially for African-Americans, Hispanics, and poor people.
The panel co-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, on Wednesday said an investigation into alleged voter fraud would continue, and Trump announced the commission’s work will now go to the Department of Homeland Security.
“It was a decision that was made to be able to move the investigation forward more quickly. It was a change in tactics,” Kobach told USA TODAY.
Sarah Sanders, a spokeswoman for the White House, said the administration determined DHS was the best agency to handle the concerns.
“Just because the election commission is no longer in existence, we are going to send the preliminary findings from the commission to the Department of Homeland Security and make determinations on the best way forward from that point,” she told reporters Thursday.
Voting rights groups are particularly concerned about the administration turning to DHS.
Perez said it’s still unclear what role DHS can play in voter issues. She said the Brennan Center has filed lawsuits seeking more transparency from the commission and plans to a new Freedom of Information Act request about the shift to DHS.
Among her concerns is that DHS may try to get voter information from states.
“DHS has more statutory authority to get information from states than the Kobach commission did,’’ she said. “I think it is highly improper to use DHS to further the failed and misguided attempts of the commission.’’
Activists and Democratic lawmakers, meanwhile, called the dismantling of the commission a victory.
Trump’s “’Election Integrity’ commission was built to encourage and enable voter suppression,” tweeted Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Cal., top Democrat in the House. “Every American who cares about the right to vote should breathe a sigh of relief now that it no longer exists.”