WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump launched a highly controversial investigation into election integrity on Wednesday (Jul 19), with a demand that reluctant US states turn over data about voters.
"This commission is tasked with the sacred duty of upholding the integrity of the ballot box and the principle of one citizen, one vote," Trump said in launching the panel at the White House.
"Every time voter fraud occurs, it canceled out the vote of a lawful citizen and undermines democracy. You can't let that happen."
The panel was set up after Trump made unsubstantiated claims that his loss of the popular vote in the November elections was caused by voter fraud.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a margin of three million ballots, but did not win the state-based Electoral College tally that decides US elections.
"In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally," Trump claimed in a Nov 27 tweet that prompted widespread outrage.
Experts say there is little evidence to support the idea that voter fraud is a significant problem.
On Wednesday, Kris Kobach, the man Trump appointed to lead the panel day-to-day, threw his credibility into question by also appearing to question the election result without any evidence.
Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, told MSNBC that "we may never know" if Clinton won the popular vote, or if Trump won the electoral college fairly.
Trump's critics say the panel is cover for an assault on voting rights. In protest, many states have refused to hand over data to the Republican-led commission, some saying their state laws forbid them to do so.
"I'm pleased that more than 30 states have already agreed to share the information with the commission, and the other states, that information will be forthcoming," Trump insisted.
"If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they're worried about," Trump said. "There's something. There always is."
The American Civil Liberties Union, a rights advocacy group, has initiated a series of legal challenges.
"The Trump administration are launching a nationwide assault on voting rights," said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's voting rights project.
"Asking for details on every single voter in the US is deeply alarming and raises significant privacy concerns.
"States are right to balk at turning over massive reams of personal information in what clearly is a campaign to suppress the vote."
Rights groups and Democrats have long accused Republicans of trying to suppress the votes of poor and black voters - who tend to vote Democratic - via onerous ID and registration requirements.