September 14, 2017 14:51 GMT by theguardian.com

How Trump's most toxic lie is becoming an institutional reality | Lawrence Douglas

How Trump's most toxic lie is becoming an institutional reality | Lawrence Douglas

When Trump claimed that millions ‘voted illegally’ in 2016, it laid the groundwork for a voter commission that looks set to restrict rights to minorities

Of the hundreds of whoppers that President Trump has told since his election, an early one remains the most toxic. In days following his electoral college victory, Trump claimed that he would have also won the popular vote “if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” Trump later refined this claim, insisting that three to five million undocumented threw the popular election for Clinton.

By way of proof, the president waved at an outlandish story: that golfer Bernhard Langer – a German citizen, barred from voting in the in the US – had allegedly had his path to the voting booth clogged by men and women, who by skin color and accent were obviously fraudulent voters.

At first, the voter fraud fantasy seemed like no more than a display of the touchiness and extravagant narcissism that led Trump, in the face of undeniable visual evidence to the contrary, to insist that his inaugural crowds were larger than Obama’s.

In fact, the lie concealed a much more ambitious and insidious political agenda. In May, with the creation of “Presidential Advisory Committee on Voter Integrity,” Trump bootstrapped the myth of voter fraud into an institutional reality. The goal: to use the allegation of fraud to tighten voting procedures that will suppress the votes of minorities, groups that generally vote Democratic.

Vice President Pence, who nominally chairs the 10-person committee, sought early on to assure the public that the group was convened with no preconceived views or agenda. He might as well have said, “Yes, we’ve created a dedicated, tax-payer funded committee to look into Big Foot’s existence, but I want to emphasize that we remain open to evidence that Big Foot may not exist.”

Alas, Big Foot is alive and well on the committee. Recently we learned that in the run-up to the panels’ creation, a member of the Heritage Foundation, presumably Hans von Spakovsky, a well-known voter fraud alarmist, wrote an email responding to the “very disturbing” news that the commission might be “bipartisan and include democrats. (sic)” Even appointing “mainstream Republican officials and/or academics,” the email warned, would run the risk of turning the committee into “an abject failure.”

The concern was duly noted. The de facto head of the committee is its vice-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a true believer who has shown a Trumpian disregard of fact in his zealous crusade against a widespread and persistent problem the very existence of which remains entirely fanciful.

On September 7, Kobach, a regular contributor to Breitbart, wrote a headline-grabbing piece for the alt-right website alleging that the results of the senatorial and presidential election in New Hampshire were “likely changed through voter fraud.”

Noting that it “has long been reported, anecdotally, that out-of-staters … [in New Hampshire’s presidential and senatorial races] cast fraudulent votes,” Kobach delivered a bombshell: “Now there’s proof.”

According to Koback, evidence conclusively showed that thousands of persons with out-of-state driver’s licenses – persons who “never were bona fide residents” –poured into the Granite state, swinging the election in the favor of the democratic senatorial candidate Maggie Hassan and Hillary Clinton.

“If the presidential contest had been closer,” Kobach apocalyptically noted, “then this voter fraud might have had extraordinary consequences.”

The charge was sensational, incendiary, and bogus. On Tuesday, at the committee’s second meeting, dramatically staged in New Hampshire, the scene of the alleged malfeasance, Kobach was forced to eat crow.

New Hampshire’s long-serving secretary of state, Bill Gardner, a Democrat, dutifully explained that New Hampshire law permits domiciled out-of-staters, such as college students, to vote; Kobach’s thousands of “fraudulent” votes had, in fact, been properly cast.

Lacking the president’s panache for denying facts even when they stare him in the face, Kobach swiftly switched gears, launching an attack on the wisdom of the New Hampshire law.

That Kobach continues to head the committee in the wake of such recklessness is hardly a surprise given the bad faith that chartered the group and animates its activities. But what makes the effort truly outrageous is not simply that it bootstraps a lie into an institutional reality or that it marks an attempt to deny the franchise, the most foundational act of participation in a democratic polity, to millions of eligible voters.

What is truly heinous is that Kobach & Co are prepared to pursue a partisan end by cynically undermining confidence in the integrity of our electoral process, the sine qua non for the peaceful transition of power.

This is not to deny that our electoral system faces genuine threats. We have seen our vulnerability to hacking and external tampering by foreign adversaries. In parliamentary elections held on September 11, Norway wisely tightened its security procedures to prevent electoral tampering, mandating that ballots be counted manually at least once in addition to being scanned by computer.

But instead of focusing on such wise and necessary steps to safeguard our electoral system and to protect our confidence in its results, the president’s commission insists on pursuing a bogeyman of its own making.

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