A federal lawsuit claims Democratic members are being blocked from seeing commission documents and excluded from the commission’s work.
A member of President Donald Trump’s advisory commission on election fraud sued the panel Thursday, claiming its GOP majority is keeping Democrats in the dark about the group’s work.
Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap is one of five Democrats to sit on the 12-member Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity launched this past May.
In a federal lawsuit filed in Washington Dunlap claims the Democratic members are being blocked from seeing commission documents and excluded from the commission’s work, in violation of the Federal Advisory Committee Act.
The lawsuit also challenges the integrity of the commission’s work, asserting that it has devolved into a “one-sided, partisan undertaking” – the very thing the law is supposed to prevent.
“By obstructing certain commissioners’ access to information and failing to allow substantive participation of commissioners with balance in terms of points of view, the Commission and its staff have compromised the legitimacy of any findings that may emerge from this process,” the 27-page complaint states.
The complaint was filed on Dunlap’s behalf by watchdog group American Oversight, along with attorneys from Patterson Belknap Webb, who did not immediately respond to an email seeking comment on the lawsuit.
President Trump established the commission by executive order on May 11. Since then, it has faced numerous legal challenges in federal courts, including one from the Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, which accused the commission of violating federal disclosure and open meeting laws.
In his complaint, Dunlap calls the commission’s bipartisanship “a facade,” and accuses member Hans von Spakovsky from the Heritage Foundation of writing an email suggesting that the commission should exclude both Democrats and mainstream Republicans, which Dunlap contends is already happening.
Emails seeking comment on the lawsuit sent to von Spakovsky, the White House and the office of Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach – all named as defendants in the lawsuit – were not immediately returned.
The General Services Administration, also a defendant along with the agency’s acting administrator Timothy Horne, declined to comment on the pending litigation.
The lawsuit also names as defendants Vice President Michael Pence, Andrew Kossak, the Executive Offices of the President and Vice President, and the Office of Administration.
Included in the data being withheld from Democratic members of the commission, according to the complaint, is the state voter data that the commission requested from all 50 states in a June 28 letter from commission chair Kobach.
That included partial Social Security numbers, dates of birth, addresses and voting history. According to the Associated Press, 15 states have so far refused to comply with the request, which sparked several lawsuits seeking to restrain the commission from collecting the data.
It also stirred controversy, leading some critics to suggest that the commission was established to substantiate the president’s claims of widespread voter fraud that cost him the popular vote, which Hillary Clinton won by 2.8 million votes.
Dunlap gives voice to those concerns in the complaint, saying that some of the members have endorsed President Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that 3 million to 5 million illegal votes were cast against him during the 2016 election, adding that some members “have a history of working to restrict access to the ballot box.”
While isolated cases of voter fraud have occurred, there is no evidence that suggests the problem is widespread.
Dunlap contends that he did not receive materials distributed to certain commission members at its July 19 meeting in Washington, and that he did not participate in fact gathering or analysis, or other voting-related work related to the meeting.
That pattern repeated itself prior to the commission’s third meeting on Sept. 12 in Manchester, New Hampshire: the agenda for that meeting lacked Dunlap’s input, according to the complaint.
“Secretary Dunlap was not consulted about topics or meeting participants,” the complaint states.
Since then, Dunlap says he has not received information or updates from commission leadership and staff about the commission’s ongoing work.
Dunlap says in the lawsuit that he requested, and did not receive, communications among commission members with staff and federal agencies, along with other data and documents, and information on the development of policy recommendations as a result of the commission’s work.
All of that information, the lawsuit states, should be available because of other ongoing litigation involving the commission. As a commissioner, Dunlap says he is entitled to that information.
The lawsuit asks the court to compel the commission to disclose the documents he requested, and any documents prepared by or for the commission in the future. Dunlap is also asking the court to require the commission to include him in all commission communications and to prevent the release of a final report until he can review it.
Top photo | Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap speaks during a voter registration meeting at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Indianapolis. (AP/Darron Cummings)