After privacy issues and concerns over how data would be use prompted most U.S. states to refuse to comply with a request from President Trump's recently formed Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, to hand over voter data, only a single state, Arkansas, has submitted public data to commission Vice Chairman Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
“There's going to be a whole problem of uniformity and consistency that could create a lot of problems, even with the compiling of publicly available data,” the Washington Post cited Vanita Gupta, who formerly headed up the Justice Department's civil rights division under President Obama. “It's hugely problematic to do this kind of thing and to do it with at least no explicit regard for existing privacy laws and concerns and no explicit mention of how this data will be used.”
In letters to each state, Kobach asked for a plethora of information. “In addition, in order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly available voter roll data for Connecticut, including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information,” he wrote to Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, who released a copy of the letter.
The commission's request was roundly met with disapproval from red and blue states alike, with most balking – sometimes in colorful terms - at the idea of providing the information. Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, called the entreaty “federal intrusion and overreach” while his counterpart in Mississippi, Delbert Hosemann, said, “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.”
While much of the data is publicly available, resisters worried that the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, would amass and categorize it to be more accessible so that it could be used in a variety of ways, including to suppress votes, and expressed dismay that the commission was put together to investigate the president's unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally in the last presidential election.
Trump chided the states' resistance. “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL,” Trump tweeted. “What are they trying to hide?”
But some pundits applauded the states for trying to protect voters' privacy and safeguard the country's election system. “They protect those prerogatives and the privacy of their citizens zealously,” the Post quoted Michael Steel, a former senior aide to former Speaker of the House Rep. John Boehner, R-Ohio, as saying. “I don't think there's any doubt that there'd be fierce resistance, regardless of the party of the president. I think it's clear the commission is going to have to narrow its inquiry if it's going to get results.”
Formation of the commission last May under Executive Order initially a sharp rebuke from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), as did the involvement of Kobach, who the civil rights group noted it had sued “four times on voter suppression – and won every case. The problem we have in this country isn't voter fraud – it's voter suppression.”
And the initiative has spurred a pair of lawsuits, from the ACLU, which questioned the transparency of the commission's workings and the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which sought to thwart the commission from gathering the data. That effort drew a response from the Justice Department, which said since only public information had been requested, “EPIC could never show that a constitutional right to informational privacy – even if it were to exist – has been violated.”