The GOP primary for Alabama’s junior U.S. Senate seat has become a prolonged argument over who loves the president the most — even when the president supports policies that could hit the state hard.
WASHINGTON — The commission President Trump created to study alleged voter fraud will hold its second meeting Tuesday without one of its members who disputes there is a massive problem.
Alan King, a Democrat from Alabama, said he told commission leaders earlier this summer there were three days in September when he couldn’t attend a meeting because of his responsibilities as a probate judge. Tuesday was one of them, but the commission scheduled its meeting for that day anyway.
“I wish I could be there, but I’m a Jefferson County probate judge,” King said Monday as he waited in a Dallas airport for his flight to Salt Lake City for a court technology conference. He said he hates to miss the commission meeting in New Hampshire, but “at the end of the day … this is my priority.”
King says he isn’t sure why he was chosen to serve on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in the first place. Trump set up the commission to study allegations of voter fraud in last year’s presidential election. Trump claims the election included as many as 3 million to 5 million fraudulent voters, enough to erase Hillary Clinton’s advantage in the popular vote.
But King doesn’t buy it.
“I’d be shocked if there were 5,000. None of this 3 (million) to 5 million business,’’ he said. “It doesn’t work that way. That’s not how elections work.’’
King is one of 12 members of the bipartisan commission led by Vice President Pence and Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Republican secretary of state and a longtime advocate for tougher voting restrictions. Only five commission members are Democrats.
”I thought it was important for Democrats to have a seat at the table,” King said in an interview. “I’ve been severely criticized for this by the way. But that’s OK. If you do this long enough you can’t please everybody. The easy thing for me to do would be to say no. And I’m just not wired that way. I thought, ‘Well maybe when all is said and done maybe I can bring up a few points.'”
King took advantage of that platform in July at the commission’s first meeting in Washington, D.C., where he pushed for more funding to update voting technology.
“If I can get some traction with that and get it included in the recommendations then I will consider that to be a great thing for this nation,” he said.
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The commission has come under fire from civil and voting rights groups that charge it aims to suppress voter turnout, particularly among minorities. A coalition of groups will hold a press conference Tuesday across from the commission meeting.
Critics have also blasted Tuesday’s agenda, which includes a panel on the effects of election integrity on voter confidence.
“I’m most troubled by the fact that the full day of panels and speakers that have been lined up reflect no race, gender or ideological diversity,’’ said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, noting all the panelists are white men.
Kobach claimed in a Sept. 7 column in the conservative Breitbart News that he now has proof of voter fraud last November in New Hampshire, but that claim has been widely disputed.
National civil rights groups have filed lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of the commission, while Democrats are trying to dismantle the commission and get the group to drop its request from states for detailed voter information.
King isn’t a high-profile figure in the national election community and until the commission’s first meeting wasn’t well known, said David Becker, executive director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation Research based in Washington, D.C.
“He seemed earnest, and he raised some legitimate concerns about how the commission was approaching its business, which was encouraging,” said Becker. “The real question is going to be whether the real motivating forces in the commission are going to allow those voices to direct any of the commission’s work.”
As a probate judge in Alabama, King is the chief election official in Jefferson County. He has been involved in 50 major elections and was the chief election official for 40 of them.
King is helping coordinate a competitive special election Sept. 26 for the U.S. Senate seat of former Republican senator Jeff Sessions, who is now serving as attorney general.
King said he submitted 10 recommendations last week to the commission. Among them, he called for $5 billion in federal funds every 10 years to help states upgrade voting equipment.
He also said voter data the commission requested be analyzed by three independent statistics experts from accredited universities. Those experts would then testify before the commission.
“That’s tremendously important,’’ he said. “You don’t want some partisan statistician that’s handpicked.”
King said he made it clear when he met this summer with White House officials about serving on the commission that he doesn’t believe there’s widespread voter fraud.
“I walked out of that meeting thinking, ‘Nobody is going to call me after this meeting,’” he recalled.
King said he has been criticized mostly by Democrats for serving on the commission.
Clarke praised King for condemning the commission’s focus but said he and other members should call for its dismantling or even resign.
But King said he’s waiting for a date for the next meeting.
“I didn’t agree to be on the commission and not go to meetings,” he said.
Follow Deborah Barfield Berry on Twitter: @dberrygannett