Ira Berkley, Barbara Esuoso & Parker Richards

Ira Berkley, Barbara Esuoso, and Parker Richards are editorial interns at the Prospect.

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Voting-Rights Activists Rally Against Kobach Commission

(Photo: Berkley/Esuoso/Richards)

 

As President Donald Trump’s so-called Election Integrity commission met near the White House for the first time on Wednesday morning, roughly 150 protesters gathered outside to voice their opposition to what many criticize as a thinly veiled attempt at voter suppression.

The rally, organized by the nonprofit Hip Hop Caucus’s Respect My Vote! campaign, included American Civil Liberties Union, Common Cause, the Democracy Initiative, and the NAACP Legal Education Defense Fund, which along with other organizations in attendance has filed a lawsuit against what policy director Todd Cox describes as the “Commission on Election Suppression.”

The commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was created to address Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. The commission has already requested information including voters’ Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, dates of birth, and email addresses from individual states, leading to fears of widespread deregistration because of privacy concerns. Forty-four states have expressed opposition to the commission’s work, though 17 plan to hand over publicly available records. On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers requested Kobach’s removal from the commission, citing Kobach’s past unsubstantiated fraud claims and conflicts of interest.

The “election integrity” commission’s purpose, says Cox, is to “lay the groundwork for a nationwide voter-intimidation campaign that will disenfranchise African American and Latino voters.”

“We are watching, we are organizing, and we’re here to make sure every eligible American can vote, and has their ballot count as it was cast,” Common Cause President Karen Hobert Flynn, who was at the protest, told the Prospect.

Protesters first assembled on Pennsylvania Avenue before officers in Secret Service vests ordered the group to move into Lafayette Square. Officers then instructed protesters to clear the park and move to the sidewalk, leading the president of the Hip Hop Caucus, Reverend Lennox Yearwood, to express his disappointment to protesters: “We have a permitted rally and were actually kicked out of the park with guns. That’s disheartening, because this is the people’s house, the place where people can come to this country and protest in a peaceful way.” (The Secret Service said they had not removed protesters and directed comment to the Park Police. A Park Police spokesman said the department’s officers were not involved, referring questions back to the Secret Service, which did not provide details by press time.)

Wendy Fields, protest speaker and executive director of the Democracy Initiative, told the Prospect that the commission should be looking for ways to achieve 100 percent eligible-voter participation, and not hiding behind the “guise of voter fraud.”

“It’s not just about elections,” Fields says. “Voting is about our ability to influence the policies that are being debated all across the country. It’s about making sure that people are participating in basic civil engagement.”