Donald Trump's Voter Fraud Commission Collides with 60th Anniversary of Civil Rights Act of 1957

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Donald Trump protesters demonstrate outside the Pennsylvania Capitol Building before electors arrive to cast their votes from the election. Photo by Mark Makela/Getty Images

A political war over voter-fraud conspiracy theories in New Hampshire has drawn the attention of Kris Kobach, the leader of President Trump’s White House’s Election Integrity Commission.

The commission will descend on New Hampshire next week to discuss election integrity and evaluate whether a U.S. Senate seat was stolen from Republicans in 2016. Kobach asserts that thousands of voters with out-of-state licenses tipped the election to Democrat victory, a claim that experts say is baseless. The Washington Post found that a number of the votes were college students who do not own state IDs but are legally allowed to vote.

The Election Integrity trip corresponds with the 60th anniversary of the Civil Rights Act of 1957, which created a very different type of commission in American history. On September 9, 1957, the bipartisan group was established to investigate allegations that citizens were being deprived of their right to vote, paving the way for the Voting Rights Act.

“That was one of the milestones to open the door,” said Derrick Johnson, the interim president of the NAACP. “It wasn’t until 1964 and 1965 that you saw a real acceleration in African Americans’ right to vote, but it was one of the early acts that opened the conversation for federal protection.”

The commission continues to examine issues related to race, ethnicity, religion and sexual orientation. It has condemned recent voter identification laws and monitors ballot box access for racial minorities.

The former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, Vanita Gupta, said its anniversary is hard to commemorate given the current political climate.

"It’s a sobering time to be celebrating the act when there is such a regressive agenda," Gupta told Newsweek. "It’s coming at a moment of deep challenge."

The president of the Texas NAACP Gary Bledsoe said the goals embodied in the Act are under attack by the Trump Election Integrity Commission, just 50 years after its establishment.

“The commission is designed to engage in a number of activities that will change the nature of the electorate,” Bledsoe told Newsweek. “They will be guilty of violating the Civil Rights Act of 1957. It’s the ultimate irony.”

Bledsoe fought a Texas voter identification law earlier this year that was found to discriminate against African American and Latino voters. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 34 states in the U.S. have laws asking voters to show ID to vote, and more are on the way.

In North Carolina, a unanimous panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals called out the state’s election board earlier this month for targeting African American voters “with almost surgical precision.”

Bledsoe said the broad state and federal attacks on minority voting rights will ultimately test the strength of the American courts.

“We’re in a watershed moment,” Bledsoe said. “The whole idea is to change the nature of the electorate. They're going to find ways to do it.”

Gupta said the anniversary is a reminder for people to fight for the civil rights that created the foundation for equality in America, especially during difficult times.

"People are super-energized to fight for this country and who we are, even in the face of these very difficult assaults on our values,” she said. "Right now, in some ways, we are realizing we can’t take gains and progress for granted."

Note: This article has been updated to reflect the correct anniversary date.