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Trump abandons the pretense surrounding his voting 'commission'

There were already ample reasons to be highly skeptical of Trump's ridiculous "voter integrity" commission. The pretense of propriety, however, is now gone.
A voter casts their ballot at a polling place in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016. (Photo by Cassi Alexandra/For The Washington Post/Getty)
A voter casts their ballot at a polling place in Nashua, N.H., on Feb. 9, 2016.

Nearly a decade ago, the Bush/Cheney administration thought it'd be a good idea to give Hans von Spakovsky a six-year term on the Federal Elections Commission. Slate's Dahlia Lithwick offered some advice to senators weighing his nomination: "Do not vote for this guy."

Lithwick's piece was a brutal takedown, making the case that von Spakovsky "was one of the generals in a years-long campaign to use what we now know to be bogus claims of runaway 'vote fraud' in America to suppress minority votes." She added, "[E]ven a brief poke at his resume shows a man who has dedicated his professional career to a single objective: turning a partisan myth about voters who cast multiple ballots under fake names (always for Democrats!) into a national snipe hunt for vote fraud." Hans von Spakovsky, Lithwick concluded, "symbolizes contempt for what it means to cast a vote."

It's against this backdrop that Donald Trump has decided Hans von Spakovsky should serve on the White House's "elections integrity" commission, which exists to find evidence of widespread voter fraud -- a popular myth in far-right imaginations, thanks to people like Hans von Spakovsky. TPM reported this morning:

Von Spakovsky served in President George W. Bush's Justice Department during an era when the agency came under fire for politicizing voting rights issues. Von Spakovsky approved Georgia's voter ID law, over the objections of career DOJ employees. Since leaving the federal government, he has continued to be an advocate for restrictive voting laws and has fanned the unsubstantiated fears about voter fraud.He will be a member of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is being led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is also a prominent pusher of voter restrictions.

If there's a defense for such an appointment, it's hiding well.

To be sure, it's difficult to summarize all of von Spakovsky's lengthy career, and the pernicious role he's played in a variety of disputes. Matt Miller, a former Justice Department's spokesperson, noted last night that the Republican lawyer was one of the people "most culpable for dismantling" the department's Civil Rights Division during the Bush/Cheney era, "in case it wasn't clear where this [voting commission] is headed."

The bottom line, however, remains the same: far too much of this guy's c.v. points to a strident opposition to voting rights. Rick Hasen, an election-law expert at UC Irvine, wrote that von Spakovsky's appointment "is a big middle finger from the president to those who are serious about fixing problems with our elections."

As we discussed this morning, there were already ample reasons to be highly skeptical of Trump's ridiculous "voter integrity" commission, created in large part because of the absurd conspiracy theories the president embraced after losing the popular vote by nearly 3 million Americans.

But now the pretense of propriety is gone. If the White House panel existed for legitimate reasons, Trump wouldn't have tasked Kansas' Kris Kobach, a voter-suppression pioneer, to help lead this ridiculous exercise, and he certainly wouldn't have invited Hans von Spakovsky to serve as a commissioner.

The panel now wants every state in the nation to turn over "their full voter-roll data, including the name, address, date of birth, party affiliation, last four Social Security number digits and voting history back to 2006 of potentially every voter in the state." Why any state official would voluntarily choose to participate in such a farce is unclear.