President Trump said Sunday he will establish a federal commission led by Vice President Mike Pence to investigate illegal voter registration across the U.S., following his claim that Democrat Hillary Clinton received millions of illegal votes in the presidential election.
“We’re going to do it,” Mr. Trump said on Fox News in an interview that aired before the Super Bowl. “I’m going to set up a commission to be headed by Vice President Mike Pence, and we’re going to look at it very, very carefully.”
It was Mr. Trump’s first comment on the issue since the White House canceled the signing of an executive order on Jan. 25 that had been billed as a move to investigate voter fraud. The president told Bill O’Reilly that he wants the probe to focus on voter rolls.
“It has to do with the registration,” Mr. Trump said. “We could be babies. But you take a look at the registration — you have illegals, you have dead people. It’s really a bad situation.”
The issue dominated the first week of Mr. Trump’s presidency as he argued that he would have won the popular vote if not for all the illegal ballots cast for Mrs. Clinton. Mr. Pence told Republican lawmakers in a private meeting that he anticipated the administration starting “a full evaluation of voting rolls in the country, the overall integrity of our voting system in the wake of this past election.”
But the White House canceled the event for Mr. Trump to sign an executive order calling for an investigation. The only mention of voter fraud since was a comment on Twitter from the president, saying he would “look forward to seeing the final results of VoteStand,” a voter-fraud reporting app created by Gregg Phillips. The president had cited Mr. Phillips’ claims of widespread voter fraud.
Some Republican lawmakers and advisers have been urging Mr. Trump to forgo the effort, believing it was distracting from more important initiatives, such as the administration’s broad assault on government regulations and the rollout of Mr. Trump’s Supreme Court nominee, Judge Neil Gorsuch.
Elections watchdogs say if the president wants an accurate accounting of voter fraud, a private effort simply cannot do the job.
“For the president of the United States to hope for a private answer to this question, he’s going to be waiting long after he leaves office,” said Logan Churchwell, research director at the nonpartisan Public Interest Legal Foundation. “If you want to answer this question, the only people who can answer it are federal bureaucrats with security clearances.”
Mr. Churchwell said a comprehensive evaluation of voter fraud requires access to voter rolls in all 50 states, which only the Justice Department has the authority to obtain.
Then, he said, investigators would need to review the Department of Homeland Security’s immigration records, which states and private parties cannot access.
“Then you would have to be able to weed out false positives with other information like Social Security numbers,” Mr. Churchwell said. “Good luck getting that. All in all, if the administration is waiting to see that kind of research is done in the nonprofit sphere or some other research entity, it’s not going to happen. It has to be an interagency task force [by the federal government].”
The government watchdog group Judicial Watch said a “full-scale, nonpartisan federal voter fraud investigation is long overdue.”
“Initially, such an investigation would be a simple matter of analyzing voter registration databases against federal databases of aliens and deceased individuals,” the group said.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation has sued jurisdictions around the country, including the city of Manassas and Chesterfield County in Virginia, seeking disclosure of the total number of noncitizens registered to vote. In Philadelphia, the group is suing to ascertain in federal court, in part, the number of incarcerated felons who remain on voting rolls illegally, a total that the group said “likely numbers in the thousands.”
The Brennan Center for Justice at New York University Law School has criticized “sensationalist claims” of voter fraud, pointing to its study in 2007 that found instances of illegal voting are rare. The report said it was more likely that an American will “be struck by lightning than that he will impersonate another voter at the polls.”
Political scientist Jesse Richman of Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia, said it’s possible that Mrs. Clinton received more than 800,000 illegal votes in November, although he cautions that there is “substantial uncertainty concerning the level of noncitizen voting in 2016.”
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