Maine’s Democratic secretary of state filed a lawsuit Thursday against the White House voting commission on which he sits, claiming that the panel is violating federal law by excluding him from its work.
In a federal lawsuit, Secretary of State Matt Dunlap alleges that the commission, led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence, is violating the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA). Dunlap told ThinkProgress in August that the co-chairs stopped communicating with him after the first meeting, and his lawsuit alleges that the silence has continued.
In an interview Thursday, Dunlap told ThinkProgress that he has heard from third-hand sources that Kobach may be planning a December meeting and conducting business without informing the panel.
“We are not a commission of one,” he told ThinkProgress. “I want us to start acting like a commission.”
Dunlap said he filed a request to the commission’s director on October 17 for more information about its goals and for meeting materials, but his request went unanswered.
“Since the Sept. 12 meeting, I have received no correspondence from the commission other than to acknowledge receipt of my information request,” Dunlap said in a statement. “Clearly, there is information about this commission being created and discussed, but I have no access to that information and it has not been provided upon request.”
The lawsuit also names the Executive Office of the President, which provides staff for the commission, as a defendant. Rather than leaving the commission, which currently has four Democrats and six Republicans, Dunlap says he wants the group to allow him and his “fellow commissioners to fulfill our roles as full, participating members and provide a meaningful report to the president upon concluding our work.”
Trump’s May executive order establishing the commission mandated that the group produce a final report at some point in 2018. The commission has met twice — once in July and once in September — and has not shared information with commissioners or the public about what it has done since then. Alan King, a Democratic commission member and probate judge in Jefferson County, Alabama, told ThinkProgress last month that he has also been left in the dark and has no idea if Kobach, Pence or others are conducting work without him. None of the commissioners have been informed about a date for a third meeting or even whether another meeting will take place.
It’s not difficult to imagine that Pence and Kobach are working without input from Democratic commissioners to push for voter purges or similar efforts to make it harder for people to vote. Both men have long histories when it comes to suppressing votes and advocating for policies like photo ID laws or the use of cross-check systems that result in qualified Americans being blocked from the polls.
The commission has also been targeted with lawsuits from a number of advocacy groups claiming that it’s failing to disclose information to the public. One suit, filed by the Brennan Center for Justice, alleges that the public is legally entitled to know about the group’s operations, methods, and intentions.
On Thursday, Dunlap told ThinkProgress he also takes issue with the commission’s handling of other events, like the death of Democratic commissioner David Dunn and the arrest of a commission researcher on child porn charges. The co-chairs have not discussed replacing Dunn (or another Democratic commissioner who resigned before the panel ever met), and there has been no official response by the commission to their researcher’s arrest. Dunlap, who said he has dealt with minor political scandals in the past, called the lack of response inappropriate and inadequate.
This story has been updated with comment from Dunlap.