Former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell said he does not necessarily believe that three to five million people voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election.
But he doesn’t believe the nation’s system of voting is flawless, either.
Blackwell, one of 12 current members of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — there can be up to 15, not counting Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the commission — said the panel, which Blackwell was named to in May - isn’t designed to prove President Donald Trump’s oft-repeated, never substantiated claim that three to five million voted illegally, but rather, to do a holistic, global approach to the nation’s election system.
“This has never been presented to me as a commission that has been given a prescribed scenario in search of facts,” he said.
He said when he was asked to serve on the commission “it was with a vision and an understanding that we would do just as some of our predecessors in terms of commissions have done in the past – to review the complex system of American elections and see what new vulnerabilities and new threats are in play.”
He said the commission’s task is valid, and one that many government agencies have undertaken over the years.
“The notion that this commission is one that should not exist and the false narrowing of the mission to kill it in the crib I find to be offensive,” he said.
The commission, which will hold its first meeting in Washington, D.C. July 19, is tasked with “reviewing the integrity of elections in order to protect and preserve the principle of one person, one vote,” said Pence in a release announcing the formation of the panel.
That same release listed the commission’s role as studying vulnerabilities in voting systems that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting. They’ve also been asked to study voter suppression and voter irregularities. They’ve been asked to issue a report on their findings next year.
Blackwell said throughout his career “I’ve constantly worked to make sure that all of the traps have been run, all of the reviews have been taken to make sure that not one legal ballot is negated by an illegal ballot and that we clean up our voter rolls to reduce vulnerabilities in the system.”
His own tenure as Ohio Secretary of State from 1999 to 2007 has been under renewed scrutiny since he was named to the commission. A recent LA Times article reported that Blackwell ordered county clerks not to accept voter registration on anything less than paper the thickness of a postcard. Blackwell later halted that requirement.
He was also criticized for accidentally distributing voter lists that had the full Social Security number of Ohio voters. The disks were eventually returned to Blackwell’s offices.
The renewed criticism irritates Blackwell. He said the postcard standard was established when Bob Taft was Secretary of State for a legitimate reason: During that era, there was a trend of having voter registration cards in newspapers. But the paper was flimsy enough that they were being lost in U.S. Postal Service mail sorters.
He blamed the release of data on “an inarticulation” of what was required by law, compounded by the need to release the information quickly in order to abide by the law. He said once his office was alerted to the issue, they worked to correct it quickly.
Catherine Turcer, a policy analyst for Common Cause Ohio who is an expert on elections issues, said the issue wasn’t Machiavellian in nature: The office screwed up, plain and simple.
“You know how they say beauty is in the eye of the beholder?” she said. “So is incompetence.”
The commission quickly became embroiled in controversy after it asked secretaries of state nationwide to provide voters’ personal information, including names, addresses and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Some 45 states have refused to hand over the information and a watchdog organization has sued, saying the request violates privacy laws.
Blackwell said in states where law prohibits turning over the data, he understands the resistance. But some of the states who are refusing to turn over the data, he said, already have made the information requested publicly available elsewhere.
“At that point, all we’re talking about is expediting getting the information quicker,” he said.