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President Trump's commission on voter fraud is about to hold its next meeting. The commission has been controversial from the start. It was set up after the president claimed without evidence that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in November. The commission then alarmed state officials by requesting detailed information about every voter in the United States. Now ahead of its second meeting in New Hampshire tomorrow, there's more controversy. Here's NPR's Pam Fessler.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: When the president's commission first met in July, Vice President Mike Pence, the chairman, had some reassuring words.
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VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Let me be clear. This commission has no preconceived notions or preordained results. We're fact finders.
FESSLER: But just last week, the commission's vice chair, another Republican, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, seemed to contradict him. Kobach claimed in Breitbart News that there's now proof of widespread voter fraud, probably enough to change the outcome of a key Senate race. He cited the fact that thousands of New Hampshire voters used out-of-state licenses as ID last year and have yet to update those licenses.
MATTHEW DUNLAP: It's wrong (laughter). So it should be pretty easy to clear up.
FESSLER: Matthew Dunlap is Maine's secretary of state, 1 of 5 Democrats on the 12-member panel. Dunlap says just because someone doesn't have an in-state driver's license doesn't mean they've committed voter fraud. Many of those voters were likely out-of-state college students who are still eligible to vote.
DUNLAP: It oversimplifies the model to say that there's a direct path to fraud through the driver's license. There never has been.
FESSLER: Still, the issue will likely take center stage tomorrow. New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, also on the commission, told New Hampshire Public Radio last week he has no reason to doubt his state's election results, but he supports further investigation. Kris Kobach didn't respond to requests for comment, but another commissioner, Hans von Spakovsky of the Heritage Foundation, says Kobach has raised legitimate questions.
HANS VON SPAKOVSKY: Why do so many people not want the commission asking questions? It seems to be that there are folks out there who don't want an answer to this.
FESSLER: Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law says that's because people think the commission will distort the facts, that its real goal is to push laws such as strict ID requirements that make it harder to vote.
KRISTEN CLARKE: It's a commission that is about promoting this false and dangerous narrative that vote fraud is something that's widespread across our country, and we know that that's just not the case.
FESSLER: Her group is one of several suing the commission for not complying with federal transparency laws even though the panel's stated goal is to boost public confidence in elections. Von Spakovsky dismisses those complaints.
VON SPAKOVSKY: All the lawsuits that have been filed are frivolous lawsuits. They're making ridiculous claims.
FESSLER: Still, a federal judge has admonished the panel for not being more open. Members of the public weren't allowed into the commission's first meeting at the White House, although it was streamed online. Room at tomorrow's meeting is also limited, and there's no time on the agenda for public comment.
That's all very disturbing to people like Tammy Patrick, a former Arizona election official who served on another election commission, one appointed by President Obama. It was co-chaired by two widely respected election attorneys, one a Democrat, the other a Republican.
TAMMY PATRICK: We really felt that the voters' perspective and the voters' experience was the main tenet of our effort. And so we needed to hear from the voters in addition to election administrators and other experts.
FESSLER: So that's what the commission did. Its recommendations for things like more early voting have since been widely adopted, although you might have a hard time finding its final report. One of the first things the new Trump administration did was to take down that commission's website, including all of its findings and public records. Pam Fessler, NPR News.
(SOUNDBITE OF VHS COLLECTION'S "LATE NIGHT - IT'S OKAY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.