Some states balk at voter-data re­quest

Can’t legally re­lease it, they say in re­sponse to pres­i­dent’s elec­tion-fraud panel

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - FRONT PAGE -

More than two dozen states have re­fused to fully com­ply with a White House re­quest to turn over voter reg­is­tra­tion data, in­clud­ing sen­si­tive in­for­ma­tion like par­tial So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, party af­fil­i­a­tions and mil­i­tary sta­tus.

Among the most pop­u­lous ones re­fus­ing are Cal­i­for­nia and New York. But even some con­ser­va­tive states, such as Texas, that voted for Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump say they can pro­vide only par­tial re­sponses be­cause of state law lim­i­ta­tions.

Trump ex­pressed frus­tra­tion with the sit­u­a­tion Satur­day, say­ing in a tweet: “Nu­mer­ous states are re­fus­ing to give in­for­ma­tion to the very dis­tin­guished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they try­ing to hide?”

The re­fusals could ef­fec­tively scut­tle much of the work of the Pres­i­den­tial Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion on Elec­tion In­tegrity be­fore it even be­gins. Of­fi­cials on the panel said they planned to com­pare the state records with data­bases of il­le­gal and le­gal for­eign­ers to de­ter­mine if large num­bers of un­qual­i­fied vot­ers are par­tic­i­pat­ing in U.S. elec­tions.

Trump es­tab­lished the com­mis­sion to in­ves­ti­gate al­le­ga­tions of voter fraud in the 2016 elec­tions, but Democrats have blasted it as a bi­ased panel that is merely look­ing for ways to sup­press the vote.

Crit­ics have com­plained that the panel is stacked with peo­ple who have long sought

to make ac­cess to the polls more re­stric­tive, in­clud­ing Kansas Sec­re­tary of State Kris Kobach, the panel’s vice chair­man, and for­mer Ohio Sec­re­tary of State Ken Black­well.

New Hamp­shire Sec­re­tary of State Bill Gard­ner, a Demo­crat who is a mem­ber of Trump’s com­mis­sion, de­fended the re­quest Fri­day. He said the com­mis­sion ex­pected that many states would only par­tially com­ply be­cause open records laws dif­fer from state to state.

“If only half the states agree, we’ll have to talk about that. I think, what­ever they do, we’ll work with that,” said Gard­ner, adding that the com­mis­sion will dis­cuss the sur­vey at its July 19 meet­ing.

He said he has re­ceived calls from un­happy con­stituents who said they didn’t want Trump to see their per­sonal in­for­ma­tion.

“But this is not pri­vate, and a lot of peo­ple don’t know that,” he said.

White House spokesman Sarah Huck­abee San­ders blasted the de­ci­sion by some gov­er­nors and sec­re­taries of state not to com­ply.

“I think that that’s mostly about a po­lit­i­cal stunt,” she told re­porters at a White House brief­ing Fri­day.

ACROSS PARTY LINES

It’s not just Democrats

bristling over the re­quested in­for­ma­tion.

Mis­sis­sippi Sec­re­tary of State Del­bert Hose­mann, a Repub­li­can serv­ing his third term, said in a state­ment that he had not re­ceived the com­mis­sion’s re­quest.

If he does re­ceive it? “My re­ply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mex­ico, and Mis­sis­sippi is a great state to launch from,” he said. “Mis­sis­sippi res­i­dents should cel­e­brate In­de­pen­dence Day and our state’s right to pro­tect the pri­vacy of our cit­i­zens by con­duct­ing our own elec­toral pro­cesses.”

In a fed­eral court case af­ter a con­tentious U.S. Se­nate pri­mary in Mis­sis­sippi in 2014, a group called True the Vote sued Mis­sis­sippi seek­ing sim­i­lar in­for­ma­tion about vot­ers. Hose­mann fought that re­quest and won.

Of­fi­cials in 10 states and the Dis­trict of Columbia said they would not com­ply at all with the re­quest. Those states are Cal­i­for­nia, Ken­tucky, Mas­sachusetts, Min­nesota, Mis­sis­sippi, New Mex­ico, New York, South Dakota, Ten­nessee and Vir­ginia. They rep­re­sent more 30 per­cent of the na­tion’s pop­u­la­tion.

Some Demo­cratic of­fi­cials have re­fused to com­ply with the data re­quest, say­ing it in­vades pri­vacy and is based on false claims of fraud. Trump, who cre­ated the com­mis­sion through ex­ec­u­tive or­der in May, lost the pop­u­lar vote to Demo­cratic can­di­date Hil­lary Clin­ton but has al­leged,

with­out ev­i­dence, that up to 5 mil­lion peo­ple voted il­le­gally.

“I will not pro­vide sen­si­tive voter in­for­ma­tion to a com­mis­sion that has al­ready in­ac­cu­rately passed judg­ment that mil­lions of Cal­i­for­ni­ans voted il­le­gally,” said Cal­i­for­nia Sec­re­tary of State Alex Padilla, a Demo­crat.

“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,” he added. “[Kobach’s] 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, an­other Demo­crat, struck a sim­i­lar note.

“The pres­i­dent cre­ated his elec­tion com­mis­sion based on the false no­tion that ‘voter fraud’ is a wide­spread is­sue — it is not,” Grimes said. “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.”

PAR­TIAL COM­PLI­ANCE

No state elec­tion of­fi­cial planned to pro­vide the com­mis­sion with all of the in­for­ma­tion re­quested — even Kansas, where Kobach is sec­re­tary of state. He sent the let­ter ask­ing for the names,

party af­fil­i­a­tions, ad­dresses, vot­ing his­to­ries, felony con­vic­tions, mil­i­tary ser­vice and the last four dig­its of So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers for all vot­ers.

Kobach, a Repub­li­can, told the Kansas City Star on Fri­day that he would not be pro­vid­ing any parts of Kansas vot­ers’ So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers be­cause that data are not pub­licly avail­able un­der state law. “In Kansas, the So­cial Se­cu­rity num­ber is not pub­licly avail­able,” he said. “Ev­ery state re­ceives the same let­ter, but we’re not ask­ing for it if it’s not pub­licly avail­able.”

Sim­i­larly, In­di­ana Sec­re­tary of State Con­nie Law­son said in a state­ment that “In­di­ana law doesn’t per­mit the Sec­re­tary of State to pro­vide the per­sonal in­for­ma­tion re­quested by Sec­re­tary Kobach.” Law­son, an­other Repub­li­can, is also a mem­ber of Trump’s com­mis­sion.

Myrna Perez, di­rec­tor of the non­par­ti­san Bren­nan Cen­ter’s Vot­ing Rights and Elec­tions project, said some states re­quire that only reg­is­tered vot­ers re­ceive the kind of data re­quested by Kobach. In oth­ers, any­one who wants the in­for­ma­tion has to sign an oath tes­ti­fy­ing how it will be used. Some state of­fi­cials are afraid that pro­vid­ing the data will un­der­mine vot­ers’ trust in the way they’re ad­min­is­ter­ing elec­tions, she said.

“Be­ing that Kobach is a sec­re­tary of state, I’m baf­fled about the prob­lem he has given his fel­low sec­re­taries of state,” Perez said. “He’s hand­ing them both a le­gal and a po­lit­i­cal prob­lem of sig­nif­i­cant pro­por­tions.”

In Arkansas, Chris Pow­ell, a spokesman for the sec­re­tary of state’s of­fice, said the of­fice had not yet re­ceived the let­ter and so had no com­ment about it.

Oklahoma, where nearly two-thirds of the vote in the Novem­ber pres­i­den­tial elec­tion went to Trump, will pro­vide nearly all of the com­mis­sion-re­quested data, save for one bit of in­for­ma­tion: So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers.

“That’s not pub­licly avail­able un­der the laws of our state,” said Bryan Dean, a spokesman for the Oklahoma State Elec­tion Board.

Dean said the com­mis­sion’s re­quest will be treated like any other from the gen­eral public. The elec­tion board will tell the panel to fill out an on­line form ask­ing for the in­for­ma­tion.

North Carolina of­fi­cials said in a state­ment that they’ll com­ply only with re­quests for public in­for­ma­tion and won’t turn over par­tial So­cial Se­cu­rity num­bers, driver’s li­cense num­bers or dates of birth, which are confidential un­der cer­tain state or fed­eral laws.

Ver­mont Sec­re­tary of State James Con­dos, a Demo­crat, said “I am bound by law to pro­vide our pub­licly avail­able voter file, but will pro­vide no more in­for­ma­tion than is avail­able to any in­di­vid­ual re­quest­ing the file.”

In Alabama, an­other GOP strong­hold, Sec­re­tary of State John Mer­rill told the Mont­gomery Advertiser that he will not com­ply with the re­quest un­til he learns more about how the Kobach com­mis­sion will keep the data se­cure. “We’re go­ing to get an­swers to our ques­tions be­fore we move on this,” Mer­rill said.

Sev­eral other states an­nounced that the pres­i­dent’s panel will get lim­ited data and will have to pay for it, the way po­lit­i­cal cam­paigns do.

The let­ter from the pres­i­den­tial com­mis­sion gives sec­re­taries of state about two weeks to pro­vide the voter data and other in­for­ma­tion, in­clud­ing any ev­i­dence of fraud and elec­tion-re­lated crimes in their states. It also asks for sug­ges­tions on im­prov­ing elec­tion se­cu­rity. In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Adam Kealoha Causey, Holly Ramer, Jill Colvin, Rox­ana Hege­man, Ge­off Mul­vi­hill, Blake Ni­chol­son and Kyle Pot­ter of The Associated Press; by Michael Ri­ley and Greg Sul­li­van of Bloomberg News; and by Philip Bump and Christo­pher In­gra­ham of The Wash­ing­ton Post.

AP

Repub­li­can Sec­re­tary of State Del­bert Hose­mann of Mis­sis­sippi said of­fi­cials “can go jump in the Gulf of Mex­ico” if he’s asked to turn over voter in­for­ma­tion.

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