If Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler wants to avoid playing the very politics he accuses others of doing, he should adopt a more helpful attitude in fighting voter fraud.
Schedler and many other state chief election officers have refused to cooperate with Republican President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, a panel empowered to study what aspects of state laws help or hinder improper and fraudulent voting in federal elections. As states constitutionally run elections, only they can make any legal changes the commission recommends.
The commission initially met this week, a few days after a voluntary deadline it gave states to submit designated voter registration information. States balked in fully complying, in large part because of laws typically prohibiting mass distribution of certain pieces of information. In Louisiana, that includes partial Social Security numbers and birth dates.
But rather than fulfill the request except for those two items, on July 3 Republican Schedler released a defiant statement accusing the body of “playing politics” and said the panel could buy the limited commercial data set, which doesn’t contain crucial information for investigating irregularities. He reiterated in a subsequent Washington Post interview that the request came off as politically motivated but added that subsequent comments made by commission vice chairman Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach clarified that states should provide only generally available public information.
Yet the Jun. 28 letter from Kobach to Schedler did convey that the commission only petitioned for “publicly available voter roll data,” including partial Social Security numbers and birth dates only “if publicly available under the laws of your state.” Perhaps Schedler inattentively read the letter since he also erroneously said the request included mother’s maiden name.
Schedler additionally compared this refusal to one he made in 2011 over a similar demand, later abandoned, by the Obama Administration. It stemmed from a shelved lawsuit arguing that Louisiana did not try vigorously enough to register individuals applying for public assistance. But while Schedler then acted correctly to an obviously hyper-political fishing expedition designed to enhance Democrats’ electoral prospects, at present the federal government merely wishes to use the information in nonpartisan fashion to improve election integrity.
Consider that to keep their jobs, most chief state election officers like Schedler periodically must face voters. Going to lengths to make yourself appear as the guardian of people’s personal information, especially in battling an obnoxious federal government, can’t hurt in the eyes of the electorate.
By contrast, suggestions that your agency does too little to prevent voting irregularities deflate your reelection chances. Any investigation that in its course identifies the possibility of more than isolated election illegalities tied to a state’s conduct of elections threatens voter backlash against the top elections official.
That’s the real source of discontent against the commission: fear it will show the inadequacy of current measures to prevent improper and fraudulent voting, such as Louisiana’s participation in the Election Registration Information Center, which catch only the most obvious attempts given the honor system behind most state voter registration and ballot casting. Survey research from recent elections collated by commission member Hans von Spakovsky shows voting irregularities may occur much more frequently than believed, with over 10 percent of noncitizens registered to vote and about 2 percent actually voting.
Instead of using the inquiry as a prop to grandstand, Schedler should volunteer gracefully all information he can and advocate for changes in state law that give the commission all the data it needs, regardless of how secure Louisiana’s elections appear as a result of its analysis. Ensuring untainted elections is too important to politicize.
Jeff Sadow is an associate professor of political science at Louisiana State University-Shreveport, where he teaches Louisiana government. He is author of a blog about Louisiana politics, www.between-lines.com, where links to information in this column may be found. When the Louisiana Legislature is in session, he writes about legislation in it at www.laleglog.com. Follow him on Twitter, @jsadowadvocate or email email@example.com. His views do not necessarily express those of his employer.