Trump disbands voter fraud commission amid fights, lawsuits

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters. (AP/Evan Vucci, File)
Updated 04 January 2018
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Trump disbands voter fraud commission amid fights, lawsuits

WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump is disbanding his controversial voter fraud commission amid infighting, lawsuits and state officials’ refusal to cooperate.
Trump convened the commission to investigate the 2016 presidential election, after alleging repeatedly and without evidence that voting fraud cost him the popular vote. Trump won the Electoral College.
The White House blamed the decision to end the panel on more than a dozen states that have refused to comply with the commission’s demand for reams of personal voter data, including names, partial Social Security numbers, voting histories and party affiliations.
“Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today President Donald J. Trump signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission, and he has asked the Department of Homeland Security to review its initial findings and determine next courses of action,” White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said in a statement Wednesday.
Critics saw the commission as part of a conservative campaign to make it harder for poor people and minority voters to access the ballot box, and to justify Trump’s claims of voter fraud.
Trump has repeatedly alleged, without evidence, that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election, delivering the popular vote to his Democratic rival, Hillary Clinton. Clinton received more than 2.8 million more votes than Trump nationwide.
While there have been isolated cases of voter fraud in the US, past studies have found it to be exceptionally rare.
Critics also viewed the commission as part of an attempt to distract from the ongoing investigations into Russian election meddling and potential collusion between Moscow and Trump campaign aides. The intelligence community concluded that the Russian government mounted a campaign to help Trump win, hacking email accounts and spreading false stories.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a conservative Republican and the commission’s vice chairman, characterized the decision to dissolve the bipartisan group as a “tactical change” and argued DHS can pursue an investigation of election fraud more quickly and efficiently.
“The Democrats, both on and off the commission, made very clear that they were not interested in determining the scope and extent of voter fraud and, indeed, they were trying to stop the commission in its tracks,” Kobach said. “The Democrats lost their opportunity, lost their seat at the table, by stonewalling.”
Kobach, a vocal supporter of tough voter ID laws, alleged Democrats wanted no investigation. “Their motto is, ‘Nothing to see here,’” he said.
One of the members of the commission, Democratic Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, sued the commission in federal court, alleging it had violated federal law by refusing to provide him documents available to other members, among other charges.
Dunlap on Wednesday said Kobach and his allies “were the ones that were stonewalling,” saying they had “very definite ideas of what they wanted this commission to come up with.”
Three Democratic senators — Michael Bennet of Colorado, Cory Booker of New Jersey and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota — had also asked the US Government Accountability Office to investigate the commission, which it agreed to do in October.
Kobach said he intends to work closely with DHS and the White House and expects the bulk of the DHS investigation to be done by midsummer.
More than a dozen states, as well as the District of Columbia, had rebuffed the commission’s request for voter data, citing privacy concerns and a fear that complying would legitimize the idea that voter fraud is widespread.
While there have been isolated cases of people voting illegally, and many voter rolls contain outdated data, there is no evidence voter fraud is a widespread problem in the United States or has affected election results.
A study by a Loyola Law School professor found that out of 1 billion votes cast in all American elections between 2000 and 2014, there were only 31 known cases of impersonation fraud.
During the commission’s first meeting, Trump had questioned the motives of states that refused to comply with the commission’s request, suggesting they had something to hide.
Voter advocacy groups and Democrats applauded Wednesday’s decision.
“It is no surprise that a commission founded on a lie of widespread voter fraud proved to be a fraud itself,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat, who had refused to comply with the commission’s request for voter data. “No taxpayer dollars should have been wasted on Mr. Trump’s voter suppression crusade.”
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Voting Rights Project, accused the commission of engaging in “a wild-goose chase for voter fraud, demonizing the very American voters whom we should all be helping to participate — with the not-so-secret goal of making voting harder with unnecessary barriers.
“President Trump has tried and failed to spread his own fake news about voter fraud,” Ho said.


China’s leaders want more babies, but local officials resist

Updated 7 min 34 sec ago
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China’s leaders want more babies, but local officials resist

  • In 2016, China lifted its notorious one-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply — within limits
  • Despite that, the number of new births in 2018 fell to 15.23 million in a total population of 1.395 billion — a growth rate of .381 percent

BEIJING: Facing a future demographic crisis and aging society, China’s leaders are desperately seeking to persuade couples to have more children.
But bureaucrats don’t seem to have gotten the message, fining a couple in a recent widely publicized case for having a third child against the strict letter of the law.
The move has sparked outrage among the public, who are venting their anger at venal population control officials who long persecuted couples for violating the now-scrapped “one-child policy.”
“The country is doing all it can to encourage childbirth but the local governments need money, so we end with this sort of madness,” a columnist and political commentator who writes under the name Lianpeng said on China’s Weibo microblogging service.
“The low birthrate has everyone on edge, yet the local governments care only about collecting fees,” journalist Jin Wei wrote on her verified Weibo account. “I don’t know of any other nation that pulls its people in different directions like this.” 
The Wangs, the couple at the heart of the recent controversy, were ordered by local authorities in Shandong province to pay a fine known as a “social maintenance fee” of 64,626 yuan ($9,500) immediately after the birth of their third child in January 2017. After various deadlines came and went, the family’s entire bank savings of 22,957 yuan ($3,400) were frozen last month, with the balance still due.
“I just don’t know what I’m going to do,” the husband, Wang Baohua, was quoted as saying by local media last week.
The situation the couple faces has its roots in decades-old fears that China’s population would outstrip its resources, along with the ruling Communist Party’s all-consuming fervor to control people’s most personal decisions.
Family planning regulations emerged in the 1970s, and in 1980 the notorious “one-child policy” came into effect, mandating often brutal punishments for violators ranging from forced abortions and sterilizations to fines and workplace demotions.
Fast-forward 35 years, and a radical change of course was ordered after leaders realized an aging population and declining workforce threatened to hamstring the country’s future development. In 2016, the one-child policy was officially replaced with a two-child policy and Chinese couples were urged to go forth and multiply — within limits.
But the bump in the birthrate was fleeting. Last month, the National Bureau of Statistics said the number of new births in 2018 fell to 15.23 million in a total population of 1.395 billion — a growth rate of .381 percent and the lowest increase since 1961, resulting in fully 2 million fewer births than in 2017.
China’s population is estimated to peak at 1.442 billion in 2029 and then gradually decline, potentially fulfilling the conventional wisdom that China will grow old before it grows rich.
Cases such as the Wangs’ remain common, despite a growing recognition of the seriousness of the population crisis, said Yi Fuxian, a professor at the University of Wisconsin Madison and a leading critic of Chinese population policies.
Bureaucratic inertia and the desire of local officials to chase revenue contribute to the problem, Yi said.
China, with an estimated fertility rate of 1.02 in 2018, now finds itself in the same category as other predominantly Chinese societies in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore, Yi said. Average fertility rates in those regions and countries from 2005 to 2017 were 1.10, 1.12, 1.08 and 1.23 respectively.
Yet the one-child policy has weighed down China with the additional burden of distorted attitudes toward the family, society and childbearing, where one or no children have become the norm, Yi said.
With economic growth the primary guarantor of continued Communist Party rule, the leadership is concerned. The sputtering economy grew at 6.6 percent last year, its slowest pace in three decades, fueling fears over the long-term trend of a shrinking pool of workers paying the pensions and health care costs for a ballooning population of retirees.
Despite that, there remains considerable resistance to lifting controls entirely, something that might give people greater autonomy.
Local bureaucrats in the Wang case said they were just following the law, citing the exact articles and passages. They also have a strong stake in maintaining the rules that justify their jobs and authority.
State media reports say fees meant to compensate for the resources extra children consume actually constitute a large percentage of local governments’ discretionary funding — 15-30 percent — and can be used for a range of purposes from salaries to travel expenses.
Thus far, the National Health Commission has rejected calls to eliminate legal references to family planning, citing among other reasons article 25 of China’s Constitution, which says, “The state promotes family planning so that population growth may fit the plans for economic and social development.”
Even if legal changes do go through, experience in recent years shows that’s no guarantee of more children.
Families complain of the soaring costs of housing, education, health care and safe food, an important consideration given China’s frequent scandals over food and drug safety.
And many young Chinese who are enjoying activities such as foreign travel are simply putting off marriage and childbirth indefinitely.
“Other things have taken the place of children, like apartments and vacations. My parents put pressure on us, but I just say it’s not possible right now,” said a government employee who asked to be identified only as Linda.
Boosting fertility will also require reforms to the economy, society and educational system, Yi said in an email.
“It will be very difficult,” he said. “Of course, the premise is to respect human rights and withdraw the government’s hands from the people’s bodies.”