What I Heard – and Didn’t – at Yesterday’s PACEI Meeting

[Screenshot image via whitehouse.gov]

NOTE: This post has been updated to correct the record on the presence of media at the hearing AND to move Alan King from Arkansas to Alabama. Thanks to NPR’s Pam Fessler and another reader for the notes … I clearly outkicked my coffee this morning – DMCj.

Yesterday, the new Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (PACEI) held its first meeting. I won’t recap the whole session here – electionline.org has links to several stories, including this one from NPR – but I did want share three things I heard, and one thing I didn’t, during the meeting because I think they give us an indication of what could be in store:

“One citizen, one vote.” The President was a surprise guest at the opening of the meeting, and he spoke for a few minutes about the PACEI and what he hoped it would accomplish. Much of it was familiar, but at one point – as he went through a description of the importance of elections to American life – he used a phrase that puts a twist on a well-known concept in election law: “one citizen, one vote”. That phrase, which echoes the idea of “one person, one vote” from famous redistricting cases, noticeably tightens the more universal idea and signals that non-citizen voting (a favorite topic of many, including PACEI Chair Kris Kobach) is likely to be high on the panel’s list. This was confirmed by the lengthy discussion later in the meeting about obtaining data from the Department of Homeland Security to check state rolls – even though numerous observers point out that DHS is legally restricted from doing so.

Anecdotes about election misconduct. There were lots of assertions, backed by anecdotes, during the session about election problems across the nation. But I was somewhat taken aback by the statement of EAC Commissioner Christy McCormick that she had personally witnessed incidents of misconduct at the polls – an assertion on which she did not elaborate and no one else at the meeting followed up. [UPDATE: While media were present, they did not have access to commissioners.] I’ll be interested to hear more about what McCormick – who before the EAC has worked for years with the federal government and others on elections – saw and what if anything happened as a result.

Alabama’s Alan King puts money on the table. Probate Judge Alan King of Jefferson County, AL made the case repeatedly for greater investment in election technology – mentioning it in his opening remarks and returning to it again and again during the discussion which followed. While I’m never even mildly optimistic about Congress’ willingness to invest in election administration, I’ll be curious to see if the commissioners will be willing to recommend greater federal support for elections as part of this effort to identify and eliminate voter fraud. As always, bet the under – but I’m still curious.

ERIC – neither seen nor heard. Yesterday’s meeting clearly had talking points, the most oft-repeated being that the PACEI has no “preconceived notions or preordained results.” Another was the value of the Interstate Crosscheck run by the State of Kansas – every state represented on the panel is a member of Crosscheck, and several members spoke of its work. But it’s what I didn’t hear that I found interesting: at no point at the meeting did anyone mention, let along discuss, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which has twenty state members (with plans to grow) and is well-regarded for its work both in identifying ineligible registrants as well as eligible but unregistered individuals. The fact that such a high-profile effort to maintain, protect and expand voter rolls, with enthusiastic participation by state governments on both sides of the aisle, was conspicuously absent from the discussion (in a way that suggests it was deliberate) is odd at best and troubling at worst.

It seems the PACEI will meet at least four more times, starting again as soon as September. Many of us in the election community will be watching to see how yesterday’s session – with everything that was and wasn’t said – set the stage for what’s next. Stay tuned …

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