By David Alexander and Julia Harte
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Donald Trump created a commission on Thursday to investigate voter fraud and suppression, the White House said, a move that follows Trump’s unsubstantiated claims of massive voter fraud in the 2016 U.S. election.
Trump signed an executive order creating the bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which would be chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters.
The move provoked anger among top U.S. civil rights groups and Democratic lawmakers, who called it a voter suppression tactic.
Trump, who took office in January, has said there was widespread voter fraud in the November election. The Republican won the White House through victory in the Electoral College, which tallies wins in states, but lost the popular vote to Democratic rival Hillary Clinton by some 3 million ballots.
Trump said in January he would seek an investigation into voter fraud in the election, even though the consensus among state officials and election experts is that it is rare in the United States.
“The President’s ‘Election Integrity’ Commission is purpose-built to encourage and enable voter suppression,” said U.S. House of Representatives Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi in a statement. She said the commission would lend legitimacy to state efforts to enact discriminatory voting laws.
Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer and Elijah Cummings, ranking Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, issued similar statements.
Top civil rights leaders said the commission would encourage voter suppression by justifying new barriers like requiring identity cards for voting.
“When Attorney General Jeff Sessions led a similar effort as a former prosecutor in Alabama, it had a chilling effect on the black vote,” said Kristen Clarke, the head of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.
Dale Ho, director of the American Civil Liberties Union voting project, said, “Signing a piece of paper will not make Trump’s false statements about voter fraud true.”
The bipartisan commission would not be limited to investigating Trump’s election fraud claims but look at issues that have been raised over many years.
“The commission will review policies and practices that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of federal elections, and provide the president with a report that identifies system vulnerabilities,” Huckabee Sanders said. She said the report would be complete by 2018.
The new panel coincides with several U.S. investigations into alleged Russian meddling in the November election, including selectively leaking hacked emails and circulating false news reports. Russian officials have denied such interference.
(Additional reporting by Jeff Mason and Steve Holland; Editing by Frances Kerry and Jeffrey Benkoe)