Citizenship

August 3rd, 2017

In the past six months, I’ve written to more public officials than I probably have in my entire life. Most of those messages aren’t worth disseminating. This one may be. It was prompted by news that the Board of Elections of New York, my home state and the second-most liberal in the union, is complying with a request for voter data by the Trump administration’s commission on voter fraud:

Dear Governor Cuomo,

 

It’s shocking to learn that the New York State Board of Elections has agreed to submit voter records to the commission appointed by President Trump to investigate charges of voter fraud in the 2016 election. Over the past decade repeated investigations of voter fraud have yielded negligible results. New York University’s Brennan Center for Justice puts its incidence at between 0.0003 and 0.0025 percent—usually arising from clerical error– and estimates that it is more likely that an American will be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls. [1] You yourself have called voter fraud a myth. In this light, the President might as well establish a commission on Giant Spiders from the Center of the Earth.

Donald Trump’s claims of widespread voter fraud have two purposes: to repair the wound to his pathological ego arising from the fact that his opponent won three million more votes than he did; and to provide justification for new laws that suppress the votes of poor, minority, and student voters. Such laws have already been enacted in several states. Those in Texas and North Carolina have been declared unconstitutional. Even when they are overturned, the laws have the effect of intimidating voters from those marginal populations. So will the President’s commission. It is already doing that, as thousands of people throughout the country have their names stricken from the voter rolls.

A state and its institutions have no responsibility to redress the psychological wounds of an individual, including the President of the United States, that is, no responsibility to make him feel better. (This is especially true when that individual resides elsewhere and has more than enough money to pay for the appropriate therapy or drugs.) A spokesperson for the New York State Board of Elections has said that the commission’s request for voter data is legal and that non-compliance would place the state in violation of the law. Not being a lawyer, I am unable to judge that claim’s accuracy. I can say that the Trump administration has itself repeatedly violated federal law: by unconstitutionally banning individuals’ entry into the United States solely on the basis of their religion; by arbitrarily overturning or postponing the enforcement of previously established federal regulations; by appointing one cabinet member who was almost certainly guilty of insider trading on the stock market, a federal felony, and another who, while District Attorney of Oklahoma, conferred with representatives of the oil and gas industries before suing the EPA on their behalf. Most critically, a cascade of evidence indicates that the President and members of his campaign colluded with a hostile foreign power to interfere in the 2016 election. After the election, he sought to dissuade the directors of the FBI and the intelligence services from investigating these charges and, on one occasion, fired an official who wouldn’t take the hint. Most legal experts call that obstruction of justice.

Does a state have the responsibility to obey a request that is itself legal when it is made on behalf of a president who has repeatedly broken the law? I honestly don’t know. I do believe that it has a responsibility not to comply with requests whose underlying purpose is both illegal and wicked.  Our nation cherishes the right to vote. Following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the Bush administration made much of photographs of Iraqis holding up their inked thumbs to show that they had exercised this right, which young Americans had ostensibly died to win for them.

The State Board of Elections is now preparing to yield to an organized assault on that right—not in Iraq but here in the United States.

In the course of our history, many states have resisted laws issuing from the federal government. Most of the time, the states were on the wrong side of the moral divide, as Alabama and Mississippi were when they refused to integrate their schools in the 1960s. This time, the resisters are in the right. It’s time for New York to join them. Refuse any request that issues from this corrupt administration; when you can’t refuse it, postpone complying with it, and screw up as much as you can. This won’t be much of a departure from what the Trump administration has been doing, including the President himself.

Yours sincerely,

 

Peter Trachtenberg

 

 

[1] “Debunking the Voter Fraud Myth,” Brennan Center for Law and Justice, January 31, 2017. Available at https://www.brennancenter.org/analysis/debunking-voter-fraud-myth

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