Some states balk at voter-data request
Can’t legally release it, they say in response to president’s election-fraud panel
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.”
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.
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.