States are saying no to the White House’s requests for voter information

President-elect Donald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
President-elect Donald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach is behind a controversial voter-data request. (Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

Over a dozen states are pushing back on a White House commission’s request to obtain data on registered voters.

Earlier this week, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — created to address the president’s persistent claims of voting fraud in the 2016 election requested that every state provide the federal government with the names, birthdates and Social Security information for registered voters going back a decade.

The request was made by Kris Kobach, Kansas’s secretary of state and vice chairman of the commission. Vice President Pence chairs the commission, which was established in May via executive order.

“The idea is to have the best data possible,” Kobach told the Kansas City Star in an interview. “The purpose of the commission is to quantify different forms of voter fraud and registration fraud and offer solutions. And so you have to have this data in order to do any meaningful research.”

The ACLU issued a statement Friday calling the data request a “nationwide assault” on the rights of voters and attacking Kobach’s record.

“King of Voter Suppression Kris Kobach and the Trump administration are launching a nationwide assault on voting rights. That Kobach — who has been successfully sued many times for voter suppression — is now asking for details on every single voter in the U.S. is deeply alarming and raises significant privacy concerns,” said Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. “States are right to balk at turning over massive reams of personal information in what clearly is a campaign to suppress the vote.”

President Trump started planting the seeds of suspicion he would later use to validate this initiative before the 2016 election, repeatedly saying on the campaign trail that the election would be “rigged.”

In the aftermath of the election, where Trump won the Electoral College but not the popular vote, he claimed that millions had voted illegally for his rival Hillary Clinton, mentioning it in meetings with legislators of both parties. Despite White House officials repeatedly claiming they have evidence of voter fraud, no information has been offered and few cases have been reported. Multiple studies have found little evidence of fraud, with a large report in 2014 finding 31 instances of credible fraud out of one billion votes cast.

Critics of Kobach — who has announced his intention to run for governor in Kansas in 2018 — claim that he is attempting to combine a purge of voter registration rolls and the passage of strict voter registration policies in order to make it more difficult for Americans to vote. The ACLU has referred to Kobach’s commission as a “sham.”

Kobach was fined by a judge earlier this month for “patently misleading representations” over a document he was photographed carrying into a November meeting with Trump. The ACLU had sued to obtain the document, which addressed amending the National Voting Registration Act.

Pence’s home state of Indiana said Friday it would not comply due to state law, but that some of the information was available to the public. Later Friday, Kobach said state law prohibited him from giving the last four digits of Kansas voters’ Social Security numbers to his own commission.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla released a statement Thursday explaining why he did not intend to comply with the request.

“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach,” said Padilla in the statement. “The President’s Commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections. The President’s appointment of Kobach — who has a long history of sponsoring discriminatory, anti-immigrant policies including voter suppression and racial profiling laws — sends a clear and ominous message. His role as vice chair is proof that the ultimate goal of the commission is to enact policies that will result in the disenfranchisement of American citizens.”

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes echoed those sentiments Thursday night.

“I do not intend to release Kentuckians’ sensitive personal data to the federal government,” wrote Grimes. “The president created his election commission based on the false notion that ‘voter fraud’ is a widespread issue — it is not.”

“Indeed, despite bipartisan objections and a lack of authority, the president has repeatedly spread the lie that three [million] to five million illegal votes were cast in the last election,” she continued. “Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter-suppression efforts across the country.”

“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” said Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann in a statement on Friday. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

Connecticut’s Secretary of State, Denise Merrill, said that she would comply with parts of Kobach’s request but noted his history of voter disenfranchisement.

“In the spirit of transparency we intend to share publicly-available information with the Kobach Commission while ensuring that the privacy of voters is honored by withholding protected data,” said Merrill in a statement. “In the same spirit of transparency, we will request that the Commission share any memos, meeting minutes or additional information as state officials have not been told precisely what the Commission is looking for. This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the Vice Chair of the Commission, Kris Kobach, has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas. (See, for example, Fish v. Kobach, No. 16-3147, 10th Cir. 2016). The courts have repudiated his methods on multiple occasions but often after the damage has been done to voters. Given Secretary Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission.”

The Fish v. Kobach case mentioned by Merrill is a lawsuit filed by the ACLU last year on behalf of thousands of Kansans who were denied voter registration. Kobach and the ACLU reached an agreement that allowed nearly 20,000 citizens the ability to vote in advance of the 2016 election.

At publication time, over a dozen states have said they would not comply (or could not, due to state law) with at least part of the request, including Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin. Gizmodo reported Thursday that the email address the White House had requested states use to submit voter data was not secure.

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