Donald Trump has scrapped his advisory commission on “election integrity”, ending an initiative that was widely denounced by civil rights groups as a thinly veiled attempt to suppress the votes of poor people and minorities.
A White House statement released on Wednesday evening said that Trump had signed an executive order dissolving the commission. The president put the blame for the panel’s failure on the many states that refused to co-operate with it by handing over voters’ sensitive personal data including name, address, party affiliation and voting history to the inquiry.
Trump said he had made the decision to spare taxpayers the legal expense of fighting legal battles against the recalcitrant states. In the statement he repeated the factual inaccuracy that drove him to set up the commission in the first place, saying that he was dismantling the inquiry “despite substantial evidence of voter fraud”.
After he won the presidential election in November 2016, Trump claimed that at least 3m illegal votes had been cast – the same number by which he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton. That claim has never been substantiated, and in fact studies have found that more people are struck by lightning each year or attacked by sharks than are accused of election fraud.
The ditching of such a high-profile initiative will come as a blow to the vice-president Mike Pence who chaired the commission, and especially to Kris Kobach, the ideological mastermind behind the inquiry and the nationwide wave of voter suppression it has inspired. Kobach was cited as the source of Trump’s conspiracy theory about 3m fraudulent votes in 2016.
Voting rights advocates responded with delight to news of the demise of the commission. Vanita Gupta, former head of the civil rights division of the justice department under Barack Obama, heralded the announcement as a “big victory”.