DAVID GREENE, HOST:
President Trump's commission to look into voter fraud and other election problems will hold its first public meeting today. Already, this panel has come under fire. Let's remember, it was formed by President Trump to look into his widely discredited claim that millions of people voted illegally in last year's election. Then states balked at the commission's first request that they send in detailed voter registration information.
We're joined by NPR's Pam Fessler, who's come by our studios before covering this meeting today. Hey, Pam.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi, David.
GREENE: So this panel, to put it bluntly, is off to a pretty bad start. But - which makes me wonder, are they going to be able to do what they say they want to do here, which is instill public confidence in voting?
FESSLER: It's going to be really, really hard. As you said, this panel started off with a lot of problems, a lot of credibility problems. And it only seems to have gotten worse. First, the commission was set up on what a lot of Democrats and Republican election officials say is a false premise, which is that voter fraud's widespread. They say it exists, but it's rare.
Second, the commission was supposed to be bipartisan. But both leaders are two Republicans, Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
GREENE: Doesn't sound exactly bipartisan.
FESSLER: Not exactly. And the rest of the 12-member panel is predominantly Republican. And it also includes some leading advocates for tough voter laws, such as strict proof of citizenship and ID requirements. And that has Democrats and a lot of liberal voter advocacy groups pretty worried that, you know, what is this commission really up to?
And are they really just set up to just justify some of these new restrictions on voters?
GREENE: Has the commission responded to the suggestion that they're trying to restrict votes?
FESSLER: They say that's not their intention, that they are open, that they're just going to follow the facts where they lead. Their purpose is to look at voting problems, whatever they are and figure out how to fix them so that we can improve public confidence in elections. Vice Chair Kobach says that the reason he asked for all the state voter data - registration data - is he wants to look at the lists to see if there's any evidence of voter fraud or just problems with voter registration lists.
Now, of course, a lot of people are skeptical that that is going to work. That said, also the commission, besides asking for state voter registration data, they've also asked for recommendations on how to address a whole range of issues, whether it's voter intimidation and also things like computer security.
GREENE: Well, and, Pam Fessler, that raises a central question here - right? - about competing priorities. Like, President Trump suggested that there was all this fraud he wanted this commission to look into. But once a commission starts looking into voting, aren't there things that they've really been, you know, that these people have really been interested in, which includes computer security issues?
FESSLER: Right. I mean, definitely. I mean, by far, most state and local election officials that I talked to, the thing that they're really worried about is the potential for hacking into their election system. Obviously, we had evidence that Russia tried to do that last year. And by all indications, they're going to try and do it again in the future.
And there's a lot of fear that this commission is really diverting attention and resources away from that problem, trying to fix that problem. Another thing election officials are worried about is old voting equipment. A lot of it's aging. They have no money to replace it. And that could also be another big problem.
GREENE: All right, so this commission is going to be meeting for the first time in public today. NPR's Pam Fessler.
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