When President Donald Trump initially introduced his "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" in May 2017
, civil rights advocates suspected the group had been created to target and potentially weaken the votes of racial minorities in the U.S.
Now, we know they were probably right.
New records made public
by Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill show that before the short-lived commission was terminated earlier this month, the group specifically asked Texas election officials to flag every "Hispanic surname" included in its voter records.
Sen. McCaskill requested this information in November from the U.S. General Services Administration — the federal agency tasked by the White House to support the voting commission's operations. The 70-page response from the GSA, delivered a month later, explained that the commission paid Texas officials about $3,500 for 49.6 million voting records. The records were to indicate which voters were active, which had canceled registrations, which had an outdated or incorrect address on file, which had voted in the past six general elections from 2006 through 2016 and which had Hispanic surnames.
A White House source told the Washington Post
that the information was only collected to avoid confusion caused by the traditional Spanish naming convention that uses both parents' surnames.
This wasn't an entirely uncalled for decision by the commission, however. The Texas "Voter Registration Public Information Request Form" the commission filled out already offered a box to check to request "Hispanic surnamed flag notation" — signifying that it's a common request. Texas itself has kept a running list of voters with Hispanic last names for decades, to know who may need bilingual voting documents mailed to them.
make it unusual is that the Republican vice-chairman of the voting commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said he had no idea that this distinction was something his commission had requested.
"It certainly wasn’t a committee decision," he told the Washington Post.
He blamed a researcher on the commission for acting alone. "[The data] does not, did not advance the commission’s inquiry in any way, and this is the first I’ve heard [that] the Texas files included that.”
The voting commission was dissolved on Jan. 4, after dozens of states refused to hand over voter information, believing that the information would only fuel voter suppression. Whether or not the national commission intended to single out Hispanic Texans, it's not an idea that will fade with the commission's end.
Texas lawmakers themselves are leading that front. Last August, a federal court ruled (for the second time) that Texas' strict voter I.D. requirements discriminate
against Hispanic and African-American voters. Another case of out of Texas will soon be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court
to determine whether or not state lawmakers drew voter district lines to "intentionally discriminate" against people of color.