Editorial: Officials right to resist election panel's demands

It is hard to stifle an Orwellian shudder at President Donald Trump's benign-sounding Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Even discounting suspicions about Russian meddling that seem not to have found a place in the mission statement of this body, its actual goal seems to have little to do with "voter integrity" and much to do with concocting support for the president's unsubstantiated claim that millions of votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election that put him in power.

Were the members of this panel on the hunt for potential illegal votes in key states that gave Trump an Electoral College win - indeed if they even were willing to acknowledge that such an outcome is possible - one might be less skeptical. But the president has made no secret that his real motive is to identify the three million to five million illegal voters that, without evidence, he claims gave Hillary Clinton a decisive edge in the popular vote, tarnishing his claim to a popular mandate.

And to produce this result, he's assembled a panel whose first objective has been to solicit from each state voting records including names, addresses, birth dates, party affiliations, felony convictions, military status and even the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Whether this information is publicly available - as Trump and his supporters contend - or not, how can liberty-loving Americans not be chilled by a government body's demands for it?

One can only hope to surmise how this commission intends to write a narrative of fraud - or dispel it - from such disparate and fragmentary bits of information.

To be sure, as Cook County Clerk David Orr insisted Wednesday as he joined a growing horde of local election officials across the country who are resisting the administration's overreach, there are plenty of meaningful things a body sincerely committed to improving voting in American elections could explore. Some contrived matrix of military service, voting precinct and criminal background would not make the list.

Commission co-chairmen Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach set a July 14 deadline for states to respond to their request. But Illinois State Board of Elections representatives said the board won't decide whether to comply until it meets Aug. 22.

Perhaps that will provide some time for the commission to develop a clearer goal and less ham-fisted strategy. It is all but anathematic for us to encourage - or even countenance - governments withholding information from the public, but we certainly recognize that privacy concerns and the sacred right of a secret ballot demand respect. At this point, the Trump administration appears merely to be mounting a brutish attempt to shape a smattering of unrelated data to fit an unlikely predetermined conclusion. That's a mission with bone-chilling implications, and one that the state and local elections officials are duty-bound to resist.

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