AUGUSTA — For Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, participation in a federal voter-fraud commission proved “a strange, surreal and remarkable journey.”

With President Donald Trump’s decision to pull the plug on his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Dunlap’s formal role is over.

But, he warned, the issue is not going away.

Dunlap said Thursday he expects Trump and his allies will shift their efforts from a public panel to the Department of Homeland Security, where they work in secret to try to impose a requirement that voters in all federal elections produce an identification card that complies with Real ID standards.

“That’s the playbook,” said Dunlap, one of the 11 members who served on the federal commission Trump established to investigate his claims of rampant voter fraud.

Dunlap said he never heard any evidence of voter fraud anywhere in America during his service on the panel.


But, he said, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has a different take on what is improper. He said Kobach appears to think any election law he dislikes is tantamount to fraud at the polls.

Trump abolished his Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity late Wednesday after, as the president tweeted Thursday, the panel became enmeshed “in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense,” including a successful one by Dunlap seeking information from the commission’s leaders and staff.

Trump also said “many mostly Democrat States refused to hand over data from the 2016 election” to what he called “the Commission On Voter Fraud.”

The president said the uncooperative states “fought hard that the commission not see their records or methods because they know that many people are voting illegally. System is rigged, must go to Voter I.D.”

A number of states, including Maine and many with Republican-controlled governments, refused to hand over information about voters, citing security concerns.

Dunlap said mandating the use of federally approved identification cards, which he opposes as unnecessary, would disenfranchise many voters. 


He said the federal government historically “has nothing to do with elections.” They have always been handled on the state and local levels, Dunlap said, and there is no reason to change that.

However, Dunlap said, he is worried that Homeland Security could simply impose a new requirement to show identification, and cut both Congress and the states out of the decision-making process.

Dunlap said both Kobach and Trump “want to do this nationally.”

There is evidence that Dunlap may be right.

“What’s happening is a tactical shift where the mission of the commission is being handed off to Homeland Security without the stonewalling by Democrats,” Kris Kobach, a champion of restrictive voting laws, told Breitbart News.

“I’ll be working closely with the White House and DHS to ensure the investigations continue,” Kobach said. “By throwing their food in the air, (Democrats) just lost their seat at the table.”


The demise of the commission was not a certainty.

Dunlap said his role in its abolition arose because he wanted to see a schedule of its upcoming meetings, a standard procedure for countless government panels. He said he just wanted to know what they were going to be doing and when they planned to gather.

But he could not get an answer.

Then, in mid-October, a senior staff member for the commission was arrested on child-pornography charges, Dunlap said. He found out from a reporter.

As a member of the commission, Dunlap said he should have been informed, so he wrote a letter asking for details. Instead of getting details, however, Dunlap was told to send a Freedom of Information request.

Dunlap said he was baffled, thinking: “Am I crazy? I’m on the commission. Why can’t I know what’s going on?”


A friend in Washington warned Dunlap to not expect anything.

“’These guys are going to stiff-arm you,’” Dunlap said he was told.

The advice he received was to file a lawsuit demanding access to information that federal law requires be provided.

“Lawsuits are not how I roll,” Dunlap said.

But when he was told that if he delayed bringing legal action, Trump could toss him off the commission and he would lose all rights to the data, Dunlap decided to sue.

His lawsuit alleged that the commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kobach, had violated a federal law requiring that every commission member have equal access to information as the group conducted its inquiry.


Rather than give in, Dunlap’s critics on the panel called him names and “basically gave us the finger.”

Just before Christmas, a federal judge agreed with Dunlap’s position on almost everything, despite Kobach’s assertion that Dunlap’s charges were “baseless and paranoid.”

Dunlap said he realized the likely response to the ruling would be for the White House to shut down the commission.

So when the order came from the president without warning, Dunlap said he was not surprised.

“I’m glad I stuck it out,” Dunlap said,  because “I care about the substance” of the issues the commission was created to investigate.

“While this chapter is now closed, I am committed to remaining vigilant on the front of election integrity and the transparent, free and fair conduct of elections,” Dunlap said in a prepared statement.


Maine Democratic Party Chairman Phil Bartlett hailed Dunlap “for his tireless work to hold Trump’s sham commission accountable.”

“Through his dedication to the rule of law and to free, fair and accessible elections, (Dunlap) has succeeded in protecting the American people from widespread voter suppression that Trump’s sham commission would have laid the groundwork for,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett called the dissolution of “this sham voting commission” a victory for both voters and the country’s democratic process.

One of the leading critics of the 11-member commission, former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, said in a written statement that Trump killed the panel “when he couldn’t come up with any fake evidence” to prove his contention that massive voter fraud existed in the 2016 presidential election.

The American Civil Liberties Union said that “rather than address real threats to election integrity, like low voter turnout, outdated and insecure machines and possible foreign interference, the commission engaged in a wild goose chase for voter fraud.”

Despite the commission’s failure to provide evidence of widespread fraud at the polls, Trump continued to press the issue even after having abolished the panel.

“As Americans, you need identification, sometimes in a very strong and accurate form, for almost everything you do … except when it comes to the most important thing, VOTING for the people that run your country,” Trump said on Twitter. “Push hard for Voter Identification!”

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Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap speaks during a voter registration meeting at the National Association of Secretaries of State conference in Indianapolis on July 8, 2017. (AP file photo)

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