ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
President Trump says he has dissolved the commission investigating voter fraud, a panel that asked states for extensive personal information on voters and drew heavy criticism and lawsuits. NPR's Pam Fessler has been covering the commission since its inception, and she's on the line with us now. Hi, Pam.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hey, Ari.
SHAPIRO: Is this decision to end the commission as sudden as it seems?
FESSLER: Yeah, it's pretty sudden. Just last week, the vice chair of the commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, was saying that he thought the commission would probably be meeting again this month. But on the other hand, it's actually not all that surprising because this panel, as you well know, has been plagued by problems right from the start.
It was formed to look into President Trump's allegations that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in last year's election, and that's something that he didn't provide any evidence for. And it's an allegation that's been pretty widely dismissed by most election officials around the country.
Also, the panel is supposed to be bipartisan, but it was headed by two Republicans - Vice President Pence and also Kris Kobach. And a number of the Republicans on the panel are among the strongest advocates for strict voter ID and other requirements, so that got voter rights advocates and Democrats complaining that the panel was really set up as a way to promote things and laws and changes to require new ID laws and to suppress minorities and others who tend to vote Democratic.
SHAPIRO: So as you say - a lot of claims that this was meant to disenfranchise voters. Remind us what the legal challenges to the commission were.
FESSLER: Well, almost right from the start, voting rights groups, open government groups and Democrats filed lawsuits against the panel. Mostly they were alleging that it was violating open meetings laws partly because a lot of what it was doing was behind closed doors. And they alleged it was very secretive. And in fact one of the Democratic commissioners, Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap - he filed a suit saying he was being kept in the dark and that he had no idea what the panel was doing, and he won that suit last month.
The panel also met a lot of resistance from state election officials when it requested that they send the commission detailed voter information. The panel said that it wanted to use that information to look for evidence of voter fraud, but states were really worried that a lot of the information would get out and would violate privacy - voters' privacy.
SHAPIRO: And so briefly, who will handle Trump's concerns about voter integrity now?
FESSLER: Right. I mean, he said in a statement that they still - there is evidence of voter fraud. He's now said he's going to ask the Department of Homeland Security to review these issues. But the only thing that the department's been doing so far is looking into efforts by Russian hackers. And that's something the president has called a hoax.
SHAPIRO: All right. NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks very much.
FESSLER: Thanks a lot.
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