Rainbow PUSH, activists push back on Trump’s voter fraud commission
October 6, 2017

Photo courtesy Marta Steele
Barbara Arnwine announces the Commission for Voter Justice as the Rev. Jesse Jackson looks on.

By Igor Studenkov

Allegations of voter fraud have been a hot topic since the 2016 presidential campaign. As a candidate, Donald Trump made multiple claims that the voting system is “rigged” and that there is “large scale voter fraud” in presidential elections.

On May 11, President Trump launched the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. It was charged with investigating “vulnerabilities” in the federal election system that could allow individuals ineligible to vote to cast a ballot illegally. Opponents see the commission as yet another tool in efforts to suppress voting nationwide, which have increased in recent years.

Now, Rev. Jesse Jackson, foun-der and president of Chicago-based Rainbow PUSH coalition, has teamed up with civil rights attorney Barbara Arnwine to launch the Commission for Voter Justice. Jackson described it as something that would counterbalance Trump’s narrative and address what he and Arnwine see as the real issues affecting the voting process: voter ID laws and other efforts to make it harder to register to vote and cast a ballot. CVJ will push for automatic voter registration, universal early voting, and restoring voting rights for ex-felons.

When asked for evidence of voter fraud, the Trump campaign cited the 2014 Cooperative Congressional Election Study, which stated that approximately 6.4% of non-citizens voted in 2008 and 2.2% voted in 2010. As the independent online fact-checker Politifact noted, however, election experts criticized the study for using data collected though an internet survey. Also, survey respondents were free to give whatever citizenship status they wanted, and the study authors could verify the non-citizen status of only a miniscule five respondents. The CCES Panel Study, which compared the 2010 and 2012 surveys, found that 41% of participants who described themselves as non-citizens in 2012 described themselves as citizens in 2010, further calling the data into question.

The Commission on Election Integrity describes its mission as studying “vulnerabilities in voting systems used for federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations, and fraudulent voting. The commission will also study concerns about voter suppression, as well as other voting irregularities.”

Kobach voter suppression

The commission was billed as bipartisan body, but while the regular members are split evenly with five Democrats and five Republicans, both its chair, Vice President Mike Pence, and vice-chair, Secretary of State of Kansas Kris Kobach, are Republicans. The American Civil Liberties Union has sued Kobach four times in his home state for voter suppression.

Last summer, the commission requested voter registration data from all states. Specifically, it wanted voter names, addresses, party affiliation, voting records, and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Most states, including Illinois, declined to provide data because the letter they received from the commission indicated it would make voter registration data public. Under the Illinois Election Code, such data must remain private, leading the Illinois State Board of Elections to refuse the request.

Cook County Clerk David Orr strongly denounced the request. “Voting is a fundamental right,” he stated. “Unfortunately, instead of a genuinely bipartisan group dedicated to protecting the vote, President Trump has stacked the deck of his commission with a number of lawmakers who have shown an inclination towards voter suppression.”

Orr also offered several suggestions on what state and federal governments could do to make “our elections as error free and our voter rolls as clean as possible,” such as implementing automatic voter registration in all states and upgrading voting machines.

“In many election jurisdictions, [voting machines] are a decade or more old and are being held together with replacement parts often purchased on eBay,” Orr stated.

The county clerk also urged all states to join the Electronic Registration Information Center. A partnership among 20 states including Illinois, it uses official data such as voter and motor vehicle registrations, U.S. Postal Service addresses, and Social Security death records to keep voter rolls up to date.

Voting machines vulnerable

Dick Simpson, professor in the University of Illinois at Chicago’s department of political science and a former Chicago alderman, echoed those comments, telling Gazette Chicago his biggest concern about the current voting system was the state of the voting machines.

“The voting systems we installed two decades ago are beginning to crumble,” he said. “The voting machines are breaking down in rapid rate, the programs don’t work well, and [the machines] are open to hacking, both at the precinct level and in the way the information is being transmitted.”

Simpson said all voting machinery and software in Cook County needs upgrading. If the federal government truly wants to do something about election integrity, he said, it could give counties funds to address equipment improvement.

“That is a topic that doesn’t only need investigation, it needs federal money,” Simpson said.

Trump lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly three million votes, with 65,853,516 going to Clinton and 62,984,825 going to Trump. Those charged with investigating Trump’s allegations of widespread voter fraud have not been able to substantiate them.

Jason Kander, president of the organization Let America Vote, not only disputes Trump’s allegations, but said, “Trump’s commission is a danger to democracy that we have to take very seriously. The country’s leading voter suppressors have been given a platform to nationalize efforts that have already disenfranchised many of the voters they’re supposed to represent. Let America Vote will not let their lies go unchallenged and we’ll do everything in our power to protect voters.”

Simpson does not put much stock in Trump’s claims.

“Voter fraud, particularly allegations that undocumented aliens have been voting in large numbers, are clearly false, based on multiple studies,” Simpson said.

Counterbalance to Trump allegations

Jackson and Arnwine describe their commission as a counterbalance to Trump’s.

“The Commission for Voter Justice will be a vital voice in presenting a counter narrative to the myth of widespread voter fraud and President Trump’s Election Integrity Commission,” Jackson said. “Almost every study says vote fraud is an insignificant issue in American elections. In other words, it’s fake news.”

Instead, they argued that laws that restrict early voting, require certain forms of identification, and limit voter registration periods amount to voter suppression.

“The threat of voter suppression is a direct threat to an inclusive and robust American democracy,”  Arnwine stated.

Currently, voting rights for citizens who have been convicted of felonies varies among states. Maine and Vermont have no restrictions whatsoever. Fourteen states, including Illinois, bar felons from voting while they serve their time but allow them to vote after completing their sentences. Other states are more strict. In Kentucky and Virginia in particular, ex-felons must petition their state governors, who have discretion to decide whether to restore their voting rights.

As far as Jackson is concerned, Trump’s commission is just another part of voter suppression.

“President Trump’s so-called Election Integrity Commission is designed to prove his absurd claim that three to five million illegal voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election,” Jackson stated. “It’s nothing more than a frontal attack on legal and legitimate voters with the end goal of making voting more difficult for people of color and the poor. It must be resisted at every turn.”

So far, Jackson and Arnwine’s commissioners include Senators Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Massachusetts), U.S. Representative Maxine Waters (D-California), author Grace Ji-Sun Kim, attorneys Juan Thomas and Junius Williams, Rev. Mark A. Thompson and Rev. Al Sharpton, Arab-American Institute President James Zogby, and U.S. Corporation for National and Community Service board member Hyepin Im, among others. Jackson serves as honorary chair, with Arnwine, Pennsylvania State Senator Vincent Hughes (D), and Nation magazine national affairs correspondent John Nichols serving as co-chairs.

When the commission formed, Illinois already was one step closer to the goal of increasing voting. On Aug. 28, Gov. Bruce Rauner signed Senate Bill 1933, which ensures that every time an Illinois citizen applies for, updates, or renews his or her driver’s license or state IDs, he or she automatically is registered to vote. Illinois residents also may opt out of automatic registration.

For more about the Commission for Voter Justice, go to the Rainbow PUSH website at www.rainbowpush.org or email Shelley Davis at sdavis@rainbowpush.org. For more about Let America Vote, log on to www.letamericavote.org.fights for voter rights through holding marches and organizing.