The data grab
Trump panel searches for evidence to back up his claims
Arkansas usually wants to finish first.
But maybe this state shouldn’t have been the first to comply with a federal commission’s request to turn over voter data.
Other states have refused and the issue is being litigated. A federal judge in Washington heard arguments last week on whether to block the collection of voter data from the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
A watchdog group, the Electronic Privacy Information Center, filed the lawsuit challenging what it calls “unprecedented” White House invasion of Americans’ privacy.
The White House created the commission apparently to investigate “voter fraud” allegations primarily from President Donald Trump, who is still smarting over the fact that Democrat Hillary Clinton so decidedly won the popular vote.
In the president’s mind, the vote had to have been “rigged.” It just isn’t enough for him to have won the Electoral College vote and the office of president.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity recently asked the secretaries of state to provide, by July 14, specific voters’ information: names, addresses, birth dates, political party affiliations, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, felony convictions and military status, voter history since 2006, voter registration in other states and overseas citizen information.
Arkansas’ Republican Secretary of State Mark Martin didn’t give Trump’s new commission all the information he has about all of us Arkansas voters, but Martin did turn over more data than some state voters might like. He did so, asserting the data he released is what any Arkansan could have gotten under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.
Martin is on solid ground there, even if his quick compliance to this request doesn’t match his frequent refusals to grant various Freedom of Information requests from Arkansas citizens.
Martin has been far from a friend to the FOI during his tenure as secretary of state, often denying access to information that should have been made public under the law.
He could easily have waited out the federal court decision on whether a temporary injunction will stall delivery of any of the data to the White House.
For the record, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, also a Republican, took a different approach. He said on Monday he is not a fan of providing any data to the commission in Washington.
“Even though it is publicly available information and anyone can get it … I just don’t want to facilitate the providing of that information to a federal database. I don’t think that’s helpful for us,” he said.
That’s really the biggest problem with collecting all this voter information in one place within the federal government, available for any number of purposes.
At least, potential foreign hackers have previously had to break into dozens of different collection systems to amass the same data for whatever nefarious purpose they might have.
Nevertheless, Arkansas state law does allow any Arkansan to have the particular data Martin so readily released to the commission Trump created.
Importantly, Martin did not provide partial Social Security numbers, felony convictions, military status and driver’s license numbers — all of it information his office deemed confidential.
Also, the voting history information does not reveal for whom someone voted.
The more generic voter information — names, addresses, which primary someone voted in, how frequently they vote — has been floating in state and national circles forever.
Anyone who objects to that sort of information being released to the public should have objected long ago.
The data is already in the hands of many, many people, particularly anyone having any organizational role in party politics and in specific campaigns.
For a token fee to the state, the information is available on a computer disk.
The data mined from the disk is, for example, what guides a Democratic candidate or canvasser past a Republican household and on to more receptive Democratic voters — and vice versa.
It also directs phone bank calls to the people specific candidates want to turn out to vote. Such screening is just part of the modern political process.
Almost certainly, there will be some attempt in the next legislative session to change the Freedom of Information Act to limit access to this sort of data.
The political parties will certainly oppose such a restriction, as will those of us who generally favor open government.
The fault isn’t with an Arkansas law that has, for more than 50 years, given the citizens of this state access to public information.
The fault is instead with this president’s refusal to accept the results of last year’s general election and his special commission’s desire to gather this sort of information — and more sensitive data — in one place to be used for uncertain purposes.