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As Trump commission meets, some local officials say voters needn't worry about election fraud

FIL:E: Voters cast their ballots at Echo Park Deep Pool in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
FIL:E: Voters cast their ballots at Echo Park Deep Pool in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

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As President Trump’s election integrity commission on Wednesday held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., to look into reports of voter fraud, some California election watchers followed the developments warily. 

Trump created the commission to study what the administration says are vulnerabilities in federal elections and improper registration and voting.  

But California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, who has rejected a request from the commission for voter data, reiterated his scorn of the panel's mission. He said the commission was revisiting debunked conspiracy theories of widespread voter fraud.

"At a time when we need to protect our democracy from foreign interference, this commission is proving to be a waste of taxpayer resources," Padilla said in a statement. He said the commission "confirmed what we already knew — it was created to make it harder for eligible citizens to register."

While the president has downplayed reports of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, he has alleged without evidence that millions of voters cast ballots fraudulently in November. Trump won office having garnered the most electoral college votes but he lost the popular vote to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

In Orange County, officials see a disconnect between the White House commission's questioning of election integrity and what they view as secure voting locally.

Republican Shawn Nelson, a seven-year Orange County supervisor, has overseen a fair number of elections during his time, and said county residents can be confident in the current voting system.

"From Orange County, my experience is it’s very secure," said Nelson. He said Trump’s allegations of voter fraud don’t impact local voters. 

"What someone’s discussing in West Virginia or Washington, D.C., has zero effect on the people I know," Nelson said. "I don’t think they care one way or the other as it relates to whether they cast a ballot. I just don’t see that having any impact." 

But the commission's request to the 50 states for voter data information, including addresses and last four Social Security numbers, may be having an effect.

Orange County Registrar Neal Kelley said his office has received phone calls from residents who are concerned about the privacy of their voter information.

While there have been no reports of large numbers of California voters withdrawing their voter registrations in the wake of the commission's data requests, Colorado has seen many voters withdraw their registration in recent weeks.

The commission's data request is on hold because of legal challenges.

The Orange County supervisors also recently rejected local implementation of  voter centers where residents could cast their ballots up to 10 days before Election Day.

Supervisor Todd Spitzer told the Orange County Register that he voted to reject the model because he was concerned about potential voter fraud. He also said he wanted to evaluate other statewide changes to voting in 2018, including same-day voter registration.

Padilla said after the supervisors' vote that he was "stunned and deeply disappointed." He said the supervisors had a chance to implement a system that would be flexible for voters and save money, but they chose not to.