Further playing into the polarizing political divide heightened by President Donald Trump’s administration, states are finding themselves having to take a stance on whether to divulge sensitive voter information to Trump’s new voter fraud commission.
So far, 29 states have agreed to comply in whole or in part with the June 28th request from Kris Kobach, a Republican and Kansas secretary of state. Kobach, who last month announced he’s running for governor, is known for his aggressive approach to voter fraud, who is leading Trump’s commission. But the way in which secretaries of state and governors are communicating the public of their plans differs greatly.
Consider Missouri and North Carolina, both of which agreed to provide Kobach with whatever public data already is available.
“This information is regularly given out by states,” said Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, in an interview. “The thought process is to get this data and look at it in a comprehensive and bipartisan manner.”
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N.C. Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said this: “My staff has told the State Board of Elections that we should not participate in providing sensitive information beyond what is public record as it is unnecessary, and because I have concerns that it is an effort to justify the president’s false claims about voter fraud.”
Tomas Lopez, counsel in the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice, said he’s also worried about what the commission would do with the information.
“Right now, we have something that looks — unfortunately – politicized,” said Lopez. “We have the concern this body is going to come out with ideas that lead to more bad laws.”
A privacy group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, this week filed a lawsuit seeking a temporary restraining order to halt the request for information.
Trump created the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity commission after signing an executive order in May to stamp out alleged widespread voter fraud that he claims cost him three million to five million votes in the election.
Democrat Hillary Clinton won the popular vote in November by more than 2 million votes but lost the electoral college. There has been no evidence of widespread voter fraud.
Trump’s commission issued information requests to all 50 states and the D.C. on June 28, demanding that state governments turn over voter roll data, including full names of registered voters, their addresses, party affiliation, last four digits of social security numbers and voting history dating back to 2006, among other things.
Of the 29 states that have agreed to give part of the requested information, 12 said they would only offer publicly available data on certain conditions, which include purchasing the information or making it abundantly clear how the data would be used. Those states are: Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Lousiana, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Indiana, Nebraska, Montana, Connecticut and Vermont.
Only 16 states and D.C. have fully rejected the commission’s request, with five still waiting to render their decisions.
The states rejecting the request are: Arizona, California, Delaware, District of Columbia, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia and Wyoming.
Those yet to offer a decision are: Idaho, Illinois, New Jersey, West Virginia and Hawaii.
Media reporting on how many states have complied with the commission’s request has been mixed, and Kobach took notice this week, lambasting reports saying 44 states outright refused to hand over voter data.
“These reports are patently false, more ‘fake news,’” Kobach said in a White House press release Wednesday. “Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American’s vote because the public has a right to know.”
States such as Missouri, Texas and Florida eagerly chose to fulfill the commission’s requesting, citing state law that officials say compels them to respond to requests for public information from the federal government.
Also while those states said no widespread voter fraud took place in their states during the 2016 election, officials still said they want to ensure future elections are completely absent of potential fraud.
“In Florida, our goal for each election is to have 100 percent participation of eligible voters with zero fraud,” Florida Secretary of State Ken Denzer stated in a letter to Kobach responding to the request. “In 2016, we are proud that Florida had record turnout and a smooth, secure election.”
However, even though several states have agreed to hand over public information to the commission, nearly all of them, including Kobach’s state of Kansas, plan to withhold the most sensitive information requested, primarily Social Security numbers and felony conviction information.
President of the National Association of State Election Directors Judd Choate said without Social Security numbers, the commission will be unable to verify if people with the same name as others voted multiple times or are registered to do so in multiple states.
“If they are going to try to use it to identify double voters, they’re going to have a really tough time,” he said.
Katishi Maake: @KatishiMaake