President Trump’s voter fraud commission, launched by executive order in May with the stated goal of restoring confidence and integrity in the electoral process, is now confronted with pushback from an unlikely group: its own members.
Two Democrats on the bipartisan commission sent letters to leaders of the panel last week condemning a lack of transparency.
“I honestly do not know what’s going on with the commission,” Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, the author of one of the letters, said on Wednesday. “This very much concerns me.”
The correspondence adds to mounting criticism that Trump created the commission with the aim of blaming his popular vote loss on fraud and to look for new ways to suppress turnout among voters who tend to favor Democrats.
Trump has alleged — without evidence — that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes were cast in last year’s presidential election in which he prevailed in the electoral college even as Democrat Hillary Clinton garnered nearly 3 million more votes. Studies have consistently shown that voter fraud is virtually nonexistent.
The president tapped Vice President Mike Pence to serve as chairman, with the job of vice chairman going to Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican who helped create voter ID laws that critics say disproportionately affect minorities. Of the 13 original members, eight were Republicans and five were Democrats.
The commission has convened twice — in Washington, D.C., in July and New Hampshire last month — and heard testimony about how to better improve the voting process and registration.
Outside of those meetings, Dunlap said he’s received little information pertinent to the commission’s overall goal — no written debriefs from the gatherings, no guidance about future meetings. One of the only notes he received from the panel leaders came earlier this month, acknowledging the unexpected death of former Arkansas state Rep. David Dunn, another Democrat on the committee.
It did not say whether the commission would replace Dunn or Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda, a Republican who resigned in July without explanation.
The commission has issued some statements to the public, including clarifications about its mission. But Dunlap said he’s grown increasingly concerned that those releases were not vetted by all of the members. He said he was also caught off guard by recent reports that a researcher for the commission was arrested on child pornography charges.
“This is stuff we should not read about in the news; we should hear from leaders of the commission,” he said. “We should be up to date.”
Both Dunlap and Alan King, an Alabama probate judge — who sent their concerns to Andrew Kossack, executive director of the commission — said Wednesday that they had received only terse replies.
“We have busy schedules. I have questions that I want answered,” King said in a telephone interview. “When are the next meetings? Who is lining up witnesses? What should be the end conclusion of all this?”
Kossack, a former commissioner of the Indiana Department of Revenue, did not respond immediately to a request for comment for this article.
Republicans on the commission have pushed back against the notion of a lack of transparency.
“It’s not accurate that some members are being left out,” J. Christian Adams, a panel member and president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, an Indianapolis-based conservative legal organization, said in an email. “Once upon a time, election integrity was a bipartisan issue. Maybe not anymore, and that’s a shame.”
The commission has faced a flurry of lawsuits over privacy concerns as the panel has requested voter names, addresses and other data from all 50 states — 15 of which have reportedly denied the requests.
Danielle Lang, senior legal counsel at the nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center, which focuses on election law, said she was not surprised by the complaints from within the commission.
“The troubling statements from Democratic members of the Pence-Kobach Commission that they are being shut out of the commission’s work are just evidence of more of the same from this transparent effort to make it harder to vote,” Lang said.
“Given the voter-suppression goals of the Pence-Kobach Commission, reports that they feel the need to conduct their business in secret is unsurprising,” she said.
Democrats in Congress have expressed similar concerns.
In correspondence to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, an independent nonpartisan agency, Sens. Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota requested a review of the commission.
The manner in which the commission is conducting its work “will prevent the public from a full and transparent understanding of the Commission’s conclusions and unnecessarily diminish confidence in our democratic process,” the senators wrote in an Oct. 18 letter.
Dunlap said Wednesday that constituents in his heavily Democratic state routinely ask him if he plans to resign from the commission — and that, at least for now, the answer is no.
“If people like me are not on the commission, then tough questions and pushback is unlikely,” he said.
4:45 p.m.: This article was updated with background on some of the statements released by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
This article was originally published at 2:55 p.m.