The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is set to meet tomorrow on July 19, 2017, for the very first time. The Commission is charged with identifying three things:
(a) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections;
(b) those laws, rules, policies, activities, strategies, and practices that undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the voting processes used in Federal elections; and
(c) those vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections that could lead to improper voter registrations and improper voting, including fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.
Restated another way, the Commission will look at three things: activities that enhance people’s confidence in elections, activities that diminish people’s confidence in elections, and vulnerabilities in elections. After a period of time analyzing these things the Commission will deliver a report to the President with their findings. So, who will be making these determinations? The members of the Commission are listed below.
- Vice President Mike Pence, Chair
- Kris Kobach, Secretary of State of Kansas, Vice-Chair
- Connie Lawson, Secretary of State of Indiana
- Bill Gardner, Secretary of State of New Hampshire
- Matthew Dunlap, Secretary of State of Maine
- Ken Blackwell, Former Secretary of State of Ohio
- Christy McCormick, Commissioner, Election Assistance Commission
- David Dunn, Former Arkansas State Representative
- Mark Rhodes, Clerk of Wood County, West Virginia
- Hans von Spakovsky, Senior Legal Fellow and Manager of Election Law Reform Initiative, Edwin Meese Center for Legal & Judicial Studies, The Heritage Foundation
- J. Christian Adams, President and General Counsel, Public Interest Legal Foundation
- Alan King, Probate Judge, Jefferson County, Alabama
Twelve people sit on the Commission. They are lawyers, government officials, politicians, and business people. Given the objectives of this Commission, the commissioners should be versed in what voters think of elections, how elections should work, and technological concerns surrounding elections. For purposes of this post, their experience in four areas are covered: conducting elections, experience with the law, experience with technology, and whether they have held elected office.
Elections do not just happen. Conducting an election is a grueling experience that the majority of people are completely ignorant of. Of the twelve people on the Commission only four have experience actually conducting elections: Connie Lawson, Mark Rhodes, Hans von Spakovsky, and Alan King. This is a depressingly low number. I wonder, how many of the other commissioners have volunteered as poll workers? But wait! There are Secretaries of State on the Commission. This is true. The Secretary of State is typically the chief election officer in their state, however, they are not responsible for maintaining the voter registration rolls, maintaining voting machines, or dealing with the day to day decisions and actions involved in making sure elections happen. A Secretary of State does not conduct elections. If you haven’t spent an eighteen hour day putting out fires how are you supposed to understand how an election should run and the common problems that occur during the conduct of an election? The Commission would have greatly benefited from having Doug Chapin, or Ion Sancho (full disclosure; I used to work in Ion Sancho’s office) on the Commission.
Election law is complex, because it deals with issues related to federalism, constitutional law, campaign finance, politics, civil rights, and free speech. A person does not need to be an lawyer to understand election law, but it certainly helps. Of the twelve members, six are lawyers: Mike Pence, Kris Kobach, Christy McCormick, Hans von Spakovsky, J. Christian Adams, and Alan King. Half is a good ratio for the Commission. The Commission really should have included Rick Hasen, or Trevor Potter. Rick Hasen is the preeminent election lawyer in the country and runs the election law blog, which has been active since 2003: Election Law Blog. The rest of the Commission members have undoubtedly dealt with particular election law issues as they have come up during their time in government.
One of the purposes of this Commission is to assess the security of elections, and that effectively means assess the technical security of our voter registration rolls and our voting machines. The technical problems in elections are related to privacy, information security, operational security, identity, double spend, and many other issues that are genuinely difficult technology problems. Laymen are not well equipped to assess particular technical problems/solutions in this space. Frankly, the fact that no computer scientists who have studied election systems are on the Commission is disappointing. Not one single member of the Commission has a technology background. None of them are trained computer scientists, electrical engineers, or mechanical engineers. Edward Felton, Ron Rivest, J. Alex Halderman would have been good choices. If the Commission has an Achilles heel this is surely it.
What better way to know what voters want than to actually get elected to an office by them? By holding office a person has, at least in theory, to have interacted with voters and heard their concerns. All the members of the Commission have worked in government before, and in fact most of them have held elected office. Only three members of the Commission have not held elected office: Christy McCormick, Hans von Spakovsky, and J. Christian Adams. Perhaps this is not that large of a concern, but the reality is that those three members have never been held accountable to voters. There is a big difference between taking a position for an article published by your think tank, and defending that position to the man on the street.
The Commission has some very experienced people as members, and some people who have very little experience with respect to elections. Judge Alan King is probably the most well-rounded member of the Commission. Hopefully, the Commission produces a report of value with a clear explanation of its methodology and results.