KRIS KOBACH of Kansas feels undeterred in his crusade to prove the persistence of widespread voter fraud—despite lacking any shred of evidence to support the claim. Even after Donald Trump abruptly announced on January 3rd that he would disband the White House’s advisory commission investigating voter fraud, which Mr Kobach has served as vice-chairman, he declared that this was merely “a change of tactics”. The commission’s work had been stymied by its opponents on the left, Mr Kobach explained. It made sense to transfer it to the Department of Homeland Security, he reasoned; its agents will be able to move faster and more efficiently than any presidential advisory commission.

Mr Kobach is trying hard to put a positive spin on the commission’s dissolution. In unvarnished reality, it must come as a blow for the indefatigable voter-fraud conspiracy theorist, who is campaigning to become his state’s governor. For years he has been fixated on detecting voter fraud by “aliens”, as he refers to non-citizens. He even persuaded Sam Brownback, the outgoing governor of Kansas, to give him the power to investigate voter fraud in the Sunflower State, though that would not normally be within his purview as secretary of state.

Coaxed along by Mr Kobach, Mr Trump had become a fervent proponent of the idea that America suffered from widespread voter fraud during the elections of 2016. He had claimed that if he did lose the presidential election it would only be because the process was marred by millions of fraudulent votes, including many cast by illegal immigrants. Even after he won the electoral-college vote, Mr Trump did not drop the idea. He declared that he would have beaten Hillary Clinton in the popular vote too, had it not been for some 3m-5m votes being cast (against him) illegally. In May he established the voter-fraud commission by an executive order. Yesterday, even more abruptly, he abolished it.

As ever, there was somebody else to blame. “Despite substantial evidence of voter fraud, many states have refused to provide the presidential advisory commission on election integrity with basic information relevant to its inquiry,” Mr Trump said in a statement. “Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the commission”. Mr Trump did not provide any new evidence of voter fraud.

The short-lived commission, which had met for the first time in July under the chairmanship of Mike Pence, the vice-president, got off a rocky start. An outcry ensued after it sent out letters to all 50 states demanding data on their voters. The requested data were wide-ranging—including names, dates of birth, political-party affiliations, last four digits of Social Security numbers, voter histories since 2006, felony convictions and more—and a varied array of states objected, red and blue alike. Fourteen, including Democratic California and solid-Republican Kentucky, flat-out refused to respond to the letter. Another 16 said they would review the letter, whereas 20 said they would comply by sending only publicly available data. The commission was also hit by at least eight lawsuits, including one by the American Civil Liberties Union, which claimed that the true goal of the commission was to suppress minority-voter turnout by applying stringent new qualification requirements. Another lawsuit was filed by a member of the commission itself, Matthew Dunlap, Maine’s secretary of state, who alleged he had been illegally excluded from its deliberations.

“The Commission was poorly organised and conceived,” writes Richard Hasen at the University of California in Irvine in a blog post.

It tried to operate to a large extent in secrecy, without recognition that doing so would violate the federal laws that govern presidential commissions and that protect privacy. It made rookie, boneheaded mistakes about handling documents used by the commission, again in violation of federal law.

Critics of the commission are not appeased by the decision to transfer its work to the Department of Homeland Security. In a phone call with the New York Times, Mr Dunlap of Maine said it was “utterly alarming,” because Homeland “operates very much in the dark. Any chance of having this investigation done in a public forum is now lost, and I think people should be, frankly, frightened by that.”

Mr Kobach is to stay on as informal adviser to the Department of Homeland Security. As much as he might like to present Mr Trump’s decision to disband the commission in a favourable light, he has lost a high-profile role, his biggest to date. This is unlikely to help his chances of winning the governorship of Kansas later this year.