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As Trump Warns Against Fraud, GOP Votes To Eliminate Election Commission


After his inauguration, President Trump vowed to ask for a major investigation into allegations of voter fraud. In recent days, his plan has shifted. The president is now saying that he'll set up a commission to look into problems with state voter rolls, things like people being registered in more than one state. He says those kinds of problems can lead to voter fraud. At the same time, Republicans are trying to eliminate the one federal agency that's charged with helping state and local officials run smooth elections. NPR's Pam Fessler reports.

PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: President Trump's claim that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in November has been widely discredited, mostly because he hasn't offered any proof. Earlier this week, Trump said he'll ask Vice President Mike Pence to head a commission to study the issue. Pence later said on Fox News that the idea is to look into errors in state voter rolls and the possibility of wide-scale voter fraud.


VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: And it'll be my honor to lead that commission on behalf of the president and to look into that and give the American people the facts.

FESSLER: But there are a few other details so far about who will be on the panel and how they'll go about finding those facts. The president has cited the work of an activist affiliated with a Texas group called True the Vote to back up his claims. But Catherine Engelbrecht, the group's founder, says they're just starting a state-by-state audit of the November elections to look for any bad registrations and illegal votes, a process that could take months.

CATHERINE ENGELBRECHT: I think it's time. I mean, there's so much hype. There's so much hyperbole out there about what is or isn't, you know, in the rolls, whether we do have a problem with illegal vote. So let's just take a look.

FESSLER: But voting rights activists and others are leery of a review conducted by those who already believe that there's widespread fraud. They worry the findings will be used by the Trump administration to push for new restrictions such as strict voter ID laws. Most election officials also say there's little evidence that bad lists lead to fraud, and that they're already addressing the president's complaints by trying to routinely clean up the voter rolls.

TOM HICKS: It sounds a lot of what he's saying deals with voter registration lists and list maintenance.

FESSLER: Tom Hicks is chairman of the U.S. Election Assistance Commission.

HICKS: And we deal with that. And we've been trying to get more encouragement to the states on upgrading that.

FESSLER: The irony is where Hicks was standing when he made those comments earlier this week. He was outside a U.S. House committee room where lawmakers were debating whether to eliminate his agency. It was created after the 2000 elections to help states fix their voting systems, and some Republicans say it's outlived its usefulness. But California Democrat Zoe Lofgren says it's strange to shut the agency down with all the controversy over voter fraud and reports that Russia tried to hack into state voter databases.


ZOE LOFGREN: When some in politics are casting doubt on the integrity of the voting system itself, now is not the time to do away with the only entity at the federal level that is obliged to try and secure the system itself.

FESSLER: Still, the panel voted along straight party lines to get rid of the agency. Committee chairman Gregg Harper of Mississippi said afterwards that the Election Assistance Commission fulfilled its mission when it dispersed $3 billion to states to buy new voting equipment.

GREGG HARPER: And if we're looking at reducing the size of government, if we're looking at any amount of money being not spent of taxpayer money, this is a perfect example of one that can be eliminated.

FESSLER: Now the measure goes to the full House, which has voted before to shut the agency down. It's unclear what the Senate will do. Pam Fessler, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Pam Fessler is a correspondent on NPR's National Desk, where she covers poverty, philanthropy, and voting issues.