Opinion

Opinion

Editorials of The Times

Posted January 4, 2018 11:58 p.m. EST

No Tears for the Voter-Fraud Commission

It’s easy to cheer the demise of President Donald Trump’s so-called election integrity commission, which he disbanded abruptly on Wednesday, just eight months after establishing it.

Many send-offs come to mind. Some, like the one a White House adviser used in an interview with CNN, are unprintable in a family newspaper. We’ll stick with the words of Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa.: “Good riddance.”

The commission was a transparent sham from the start, nothing more than a cover to justify Trump’s reckless and unfounded claims about widespread voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election, which he blamed for his losing the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes.

The lying continued on Wednesday. In a brief executive order, the president said he was ending the commission “despite substantial evidence of voter fraud" — but the commission turned up no such evidence, substantial or otherwise.

Not only that, but its short existence was marked by a string of embarrassing missteps. There were the clumsy requests for voter data, in some cases partial Social Security numbers, that at least a dozen states, Republican and Democratic alike, rightly rejected. There were multiple lawsuits alleging that the commission was violating the Constitution by discriminating against voters of color or infringing on Americans’ privacy rights. The commission was even sued by one of its own members, Matthew Dunlap, the Maine secretary of state and a Democrat, who said he was being kept in the dark about the commission’s activities and called any claims of bipartisanship a “facade.”

The commission’s only real accomplishment was to give a national platform to the nation’s most dogged vote deniers — men like J. Christian Adams, who has produced reports on noncitizen voting titled “Alien Invasion,” helpfully illustrated with pictures of UFOs; Ken Blackwell, the former Ohio secretary of state who tried to toss out voter registrations for being printed on the wrong thickness of paper; and Hans von Spakovsky, who has been hawking phony tales of voter fraud at least since the George W. Bush administration, and who advocated staffing the commission with “real experts on the conservative side on this issue,” as opposed to Democrats or “mainstream Republican officials” — both of whom live in the reality-based world, where election administrators of both parties agree that fraud is rare to nonexistent.

And then there is Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice chairman and guiding light, the man more responsible than perhaps anyone else for keeping alive the bogus specter of voting fraud in America. Kobach is the secretary of state of Kansas, where he has worked tirelessly for years to smoke out illegal voting by noncitizens, dead voters and other malefactors. In place of actual evidence, he relies on an anti-fraud data collection program with a 99 percent error rate. His results? Nine convictions, mostly of older white Republican men who voted twice.

Kobach’s failures have not induced in him any apparent humility. In September, he said it was “highly likely” that more than 5,000 fraudulent votes swung the 2016 Senate election in New Hampshire, which was narrowly won by a Democrat, Maggie Hassan, and suggested fraud was also responsible for Clinton’s victory in the state. Like almost all other claims of voter fraud, it wasn’t true — most of those votes probably were cast by college students who legally registered and voted with out-of-state IDs. But that didn’t stop Republican lawmakers in the state from passing a bill on Wednesday that would impose what is essentially a poll tax on students who want to exercise their right to vote.

All this is laughable, but it would be a big mistake to assume that the collapse of the commission means the end of the voter-fraud inquisition. To the contrary, Kobach, who called Trump’s lie about millions of illegal voters “absolutely correct,” seems more than happy to continue his voter-suppression tactics in the dark. On Wednesday, Kobach told Politico, “Anyone on the left needs to realize that by throwing the food in the air, they just lost a seat at the table.” If you ask Dunlap, they never had a seat in the first place.

Kobach has already shifted his attention to the Department of Homeland Security, which might seem like an odd choice until you remember his anti-immigrant crusade. He’s especially keen on changing federal voting law, as he succeeded in changing Kansas law, to require all voters to show proof of citizenship. He claims this reduces fraud, even though there’s extremely little evidence of noncitizens voting anywhere.

There is a tendency to cast any defeat for Trump as a win for liberals or the “resistance” more generally. In this case, the win is for democracy, and for competent governance, in the face of a calculated disinformation campaign. So, go ahead and enjoy the demise of a phony diversion that should never have existed to begin with. But as long as the nation is run by xenophobic fabulists with an ax to grind, the animating spirit of the commission will live on to haunt us all.

Making Art Lovers Pay

The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City has probably made itself popular with no one by announcing it will soon impose a mandatory admission fee of up to $25 on visitors who don’t live in New York state. But given financial realities — a multimillion-dollar deficit that will not disappear by itself — the new policy, announced Thursday, is as understandable as it is regrettable.

For decades, the Met followed a pay-as-you-wish tradition, suggesting a $25 payment from every adult but not requiring it. If you wished to put up much less, so be it. In recent years, the share of museumgoers paying the full freight shrank as the suggested price rose to $25 from $12. In 2004, 63 percent of adults paid in full. In 2017, the figure shriveled to 17 percent. The system simply “isn’t successful anymore,” said Daniel Weiss, the Met’s president and chief executive. He said his institution is the only major museum anywhere that relies on voluntary fees and doesn’t get most of its revenue from the government.

So starting in March, non-New Yorkers will have to pay $25, though students and the elderly will be charged, respectively, $12 and $17. The only exceptions are students from Connecticut and New Jersey. Pay as you wish remains in place for them. The same goes for New Yorkers. In effect, they will be carded, forced to produce identification — a driver’s license, a library card, a bank statement — that shows their address.

The new system is in line with prices charged at some other institutions, like the Museum of Modern Art. It’s not expected to produce torrents of new money for the Met, though. Weiss put the projected extra revenue from non-New Yorkers between $6 million and $11 million. New York City’s government — which has given the new policy its blessing and contributes more than $27 million a year to help cover the museum’s operating expenses — spends $6 million every 35 minutes or so.

It’s tempting to ask if the Met couldn’t have found other sources without compelling some visitors to pry open their wallets. Indeed, some are already asking. Among those giving the change a thumbs-down are The Times’ chief art critics, Holland Cotter and Roberta Smith.

Still, one can sympathize with the museum, even if some of its financial woes are of its own creation across the years. Weiss calls the new revenue both “meaningful” and dependable. It’s hard to imagine vast numbers of foreigners or out-of-staters, already paying sacks of cash to tour New York, refusing to set foot in the Met because $25 will now be demanded instead of requested.

We’re going to keep an eye out, though, for scam artists. Can’t you just see enterprising souls hanging outside the Met and hawking fake New York IDs?

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