Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf hit the nail on the head last week when he refused to play along with the Trump administration’s invasive and unwarranted request for unfettered access to his state’s voter rolls.
“The right to vote is absolute and I have no confidence that you seek to bolster it,” Wolf, a Democrat, wrote to Kris Kobach, vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s hilariously misnamed Election Integrity Commission.
If you’re just tuning in, Kobach, who is Kansas’ Republican Secretary of State and a 2018 GOP gubernatorial hopeful, was on a fishing expedition for sensitive information about voters from all 50 states.
The data he sought included party affiliation, the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers and their voting history back to 2006.
The bipartisan panel has been charged with uncovering evidence of voter fraud in American elections.
It would be easy to accuse Wolf, who is up for re-election next year, of merely playing politics with an unpopular White House. And there may be some glimmer of truth to that.
But it is also true that 44 states have partly or fully rebuffed Kobach’s request.
Delbert Hosemann, Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State, rejected the request, telling one newspaper that Trump’s commission could “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.”
That bipartisan agreement stems from the simple fact that the request is not only unnecessarily invasive, but also because there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in the American electoral system.
That’s a conclusion that’s been buttressed by study after study, most notably, an important 2014 analysis of voter fraud by Loyola Law School professor Justin Levitt.
Levitt analyzed 14 years’ worth of voting data and found just 31 possible incidents of fraud from roughly 241 fraudulent ballots, The Washington Post reported.
That’s out of, by the way, more than 1 billion votes cast during that same time frame, as CNN noted recently.
That mountain of evidence has not stopped Trump from claiming, without proof, that millions of votes were cast illegally in his 2016 campaign against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted last November.
(For the purposes of clarity, Trump did not win in a landslide and there were not millions of illegal votes cast in the 2016 election.)
So what might Kobach, who is casting the widest possible of nets, be really after in this unusually offensive request for voters’ personal information and habits?
It’s a red herring, intended to distract public attention away from the ongoing — and legitimate — investigation into allegations of electoral meddling by Russia.
But something more pernicious might also be at work.
Given this White House’s heavy-handed tactics when it comes to dealing with political opponents, and past Republican efforts to disenfranchise whole swaths of the American electorate, I’m going with the explanation offered by Myrna Perez at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School.
“The concern is that this going to be used to justify regressive and disenfranchising federal law,” Perez told The Washington Post.
Wolf raised similar concerns in his own letter to Kobach, arguing that such a wholesale disclosure would violate state law and that there was no assurance that the data would be handled securely.
“Your request implies that your office may undertake a systematic effort to suppress the vote in Pennsylvania,” he wrote.
Trump narrowly won the Keystone State in 2016, prevailing over Clinton 48.2 percent to 47.5 percent.
It is not unrealistic to suggest that Kobach’s commission may be trying to identify future opposition voters and then raise barricades to their participation in the electoral process.
And even if that is not the case, the fact remains that Kobach’s commission is in pernicious search of a solution to a non-existent problem. The data suggests that it’s a futile exercise.
In the meantime, states must continue to resist this unreasonable exercise in federal power.
An award-winning political journalist, Micek is the Opinion Editor and Political Columnist for PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa. Readers may follow him on Twitter @ByJohnLMicek and email him at email@example.com.