One of two Democrats named to President Donald Trump’s commission to investigate voter fraud said even though he disagrees with Trump’s claims that millions voted illegally in November, he’s willing to give the president the benefit of the doubt and is in a much better position to influence the effort by serving on the panel.
When the White House announced the voter fraud investigation on Thursday, many voting rights groups were quick to denounce the effort as a “sham.” Critics also said any serious election expert should stay as far away from the commission as possible to avoid lending it credibility. Although state election officials consistently have said extensive voter fraud is extremely rare, Trump has claimed ― without offering any evidence ― that it was widespread in the 2016 election.
But Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) said that for him, it was more important to have a seat at the table to influence the panel’s work. Dunlap told HuffPost on Thursday that while he didn’t believe voter fraud occurred, he wanted to hear the president’s case for it.
Calling himself “an institutionalist at heart,” he said that “whether I agree or disagree with the president or vice president, you know, they are the president and the vice president and you give them a little bit of the benefit of the doubt.”
“We are talking about politics’’ in the panel’s formation, Dunlap said. If “we find not very much’’ voter fraud “and there’s an effort to conflate that into some major public policy crisis, I think I’m better postured to counter that from my own understanding and knowledge from within the circle than I am from without the circle.”
Trump’s commission is headed by Vice President Mike Pence. Serving as vice chairman is Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who has pushed an extremely restrictive voting law in his state and has a long history of exaggerating the extent of voter fraud.
Six people have been named to the commission so far; the other Democrat is New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner. The White House said the panel eventually will have about a dozen members, and the commission announcement noted its bipartisan nature.
Dale Ho, head of the ACLU’s voting rights project, said any election expert who participated in the commission risked undermining their credibility.
“There’s nothing for them to investigate,” Ho told HuffPost. Trump and Kobach ``already believe that there is this massive fraud, despite the fact that there is no evidence of it. If you participate in that process, all you’re doing is lending your credibility to a process that’s going to arrive at that pre-determined result to justify unnecessary restrictions on the right to vote.”
The final count of the popular vote showed Hillary Clinton leading it by about 2.8 million.
Bob Bauer, who served as White House counsel to President Barack Obama, wrote in a blog post that Dunlap and Gardner were being “used” by the White House and that “election administration experts should keep their distance” from the panel.
“Their cooperation will allow for the administration to pretend to have had serious bipartisan support for its work, which can be expected to result in politically charged claims and legislative and other proposals to restrict the right to vote.”
Dunlap said he hadn’t yet been told what the commission’s focus would be, nor had he had time to speak with Gardner. He also said he wouldn’t hesitate to quit if he believed the panel’s work was partisan.
“If I felt that this was getting me absolutely nowhere and it was a press farce, then yeah, I probably would say ‘enough’s enough’ and I’d probably say something to that effect publicly,’’ Dunlap said. “If we get to the very end of it, and they issue a report that I adamantly disagree with, I will speak to that.”
He said his interview with HuffPost highlighted the significance of serving on the commission.
“If you’re not in a position to counter it, then no one is going to be paying attention to you. I mean, would you be calling me today if I was not part of this?” he said.