Rep. Elijah E. Cummings is requesting that a group whose affiliates have challenged the legitimately of thousands of voter registrations, including some in Maryland, turn over documents to demonstrate how it determines which registrations to target.
In a letter to Texas-based True the Vote, the Baltimore Democrat argues that the group and its affiliates have been unsuccessful in identifying people who are incorrectly registered. Instead, Cummings argues, the groups are jeopardizing to disenfranchise people who are correctly registered to vote.
"At some point, an effort to challenge voter registrations by the thousands without any legitimate basis may be evidence of illegal voter suppression," Cummings wrote. "If these efforts are intentional, politically-motivated, and widespread across multiple states, they could amount to a criminal conspiracy to deny legitimate voters their constitutional rights."
Cummings' effort is part of a broader political debate taking shape over electoral integrity ahead of next month's presidential election. Earlier this week, a Pennsylvania judge put on hold a controversial law that would to require voters to show a photo ID at the ballot. Democrats have generally balked at such laws, arguing they can lead to voter suppression. Republicans, meanwhile, have countered that the current system opens to the door for fraud.
Cummings, the top-ranking Democrat on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, cites a local group called Election Integrity Maryland as being "empowered" by True the Vote. According to a recent MarylandReporter story that Cummings notes in his letter, the group challenged thousands of registrations statewide.
Catharine Trauernicht, vice president of Election Integrity Maryland, said her group has no legal affiliation with True the Vote and receives no funding from the group. The national organization has provided training to its volunteers, she said, and it does supply the database it uses to examine registrations.
Trauernicht notes that state officials have long acknowledged the difficulty in maintaining accurate registration rolls. She says the group's aim is to be a help, not a hindrance to local boards of election. When one of the group's 100 volunteers notice a potential problem in a registration file, they simply pass it on for review.
"We make no attempt…to remove anyone from the voter rolls," she said.
Among other things, Cummings has requested that True the Vote turn over a list of all of its challenges by state and precinct as well as a list of voter registration rolls the group is currently reviewing for potential challenges. Cummings has also requested the group's computer programs, research software and databases.
In a statement, True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht said she has forwarded Cummings' letter to her legal team and "is more than happy to avail itself to any official House Committee on Oversight and Government reform inquiry."
Cummings does not have the power to issue subpoenas or launch an official committee investigation without support from the Republican chairman, California Rep. Darrell Issa -- and that support is unlikely in this case.
"In the interim," Engelbrecht said, "True the Vote invites Congressman Cummings, or any other interested parties, to participate in our training sessions in the weeks ahead."