DON GONYEA, HOST:
This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Don Gonyea in for Michel Martin.
We're going to start the program today with news about a commission set up by President Trump to investigate supposed widespread voter fraud. That group was disbanded in January, and no credible evidence was ever presented that would substantiate the president's claims. Now thousands of documents from the commission have been released, and one of the members is speaking out - Matthew Dunlap. He is Maine's Secretary of State, and he was one of four Democrats on the 11-member commission. Matthew Dunlap joins us now. Welcome.
MATTHEW DUNLAP: Thank you for having me.
GONYEA: So, Secretary Dunlap, I - as I understand it, it is your contention that this commission was set up basically to validate a claim made by President Trump that 3 to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. Is that correct?
DUNLAP: Well, the commission was purported to investigate the claim and make suggestions on ways to improve the integrity of elections. But, as the commission went forward in this work, it became more and more mysterious in how it was moving. And, basically, we were getting walled off. And because we couldn't find out what our own commission was working on, I made a formal inquiry and was told that they were reviewing my request with their legal counsel, which made me scratch my head a little bit. And it led to a court case we ultimately prevailed in. And the court case was premised on the idea that, as an equal member of the commission, I was entitled to the working documents of the commission.
GONYEA: So you filed the lawsuit that has now resulted in the release of those documents. It gives us some glimpse of the workings of the commission. What did you want to bring to light?
DUNLAP: Well, what's remarkable about the documents is what's not in there, and what's not in there is any substantiated evidence of voter misconduct at any scale. In fact, one of the troubling things about the documents that we saw was that before we were even really meeting, commission staff were working on a framework of a report. And several sections of report talk about voter fraud, and those sections are completely blank. They didn't insert any information whatsoever.
So that's why we've been saying that, even though the idea was to investigate voter fraud, it is pretty clear that the purpose of the commission was to actually affirm and validate the president's claims whether or not we had any evidence of any such voter misconduct.
GONYEA: And, again, you were on the panel, but you couldn't get access to the work it was doing or any evidence that it was supposedly gathering.
DUNLAP: I couldn't even get a schedule. This was the frustration that I felt when Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon forwarded me an email from the Minnesota Voters Alliance touting the fact that they've been invited to the December meeting of the commission, and that was the first word I'd had in October that they were even talking about a December meeting. So that's when I sent the formal letter which really led ultimately to the lawsuit you're talking about.
GONYEA: And, along the way, you shared your concerns with other members of the group?
DUNLAP: I did. And one of the things that came out in these documents was a probate judge from Alabama, Alan King, who was one of the other Democrats on the commission, unbeknownst to me, had also sent a similar piece of correspondence to mine asking for what we were doing, what was going on. And he didn't get an answer, either.
GONYEA: Kris Kobach is, of course, the secretary of state of Kansas. He was the vice chair of this commission appointed by President Trump. When the commission was disbanded, neither Kobach nor the president said, we're disbanding it because it didn't find anything. They said there were legal issues. They had other reasons. What were you told at the time regarding why the commission was being folded?
DUNLAP: The only thing that we were told at the time - and it came very suddenly - was that, because of all the lawsuits, it was impossible for the commission to do its work, which I find absolutely laughable. As the chief elections officer, chief motor vehicle officer, chief notary officer, etc., for the state of Maine, I get sued about five times a week. If I stopped doing my work because of pending litigation, we'd come grinding to a halt. It just simply does not follow that the White House cannot have a commission do its work because there's litigation. That's what the Department of Justice is for. You let them handle the litigation, and you keep doing your work.
I think the reason why they disbanded it was because they really didn't want anybody to know what they were talking about and working on behind the scenes, which was this report that was being framed up without any of our knowledge. We hadn't even done any substantive discussion about what a report would look like, and they were writing it. So I think that speaks to what the goal was, which was to validate the president's claims - not to do any type of investigation or explication of what those claims would actually look like or produce.
GONYEA: You were happy to be on this commission. It's just the way this commission went about its business.
DUNLAP: Yeah. I mean, I was - I came into it with the idea that we could tell our story. We do a great job in our elections here in Maine, and people trust what we do. And I thought, that's a great story to tell. But we never really got a chance to tell it because the focus of the work of the commission seemed to be on, you know, this phantom menace of voter fraud that you can't quantify it. Nobody ever shows me indictments. They never show me prosecutions during the time of the commission.
People would send me Facebook memes about (laughter) you know, the number of illegal immigrants voting. It's like, OK, that's a great fairy tale, but show me the actual concrete evidence. And no one seems to be able to come up with that, either now or during the time of the commission.
GONYEA: Matthew Dunlap is the secretary of state of the state of Maine. Thanks for being with us today.
DUNLAP: Thanks for having me.
GONYEA: And we should say we have reached out to Secretary Kris Kobach, the former vice chair of the commission, and are awaiting his response.
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