Flood of complaints in voter data request
A week after President Donald Trump’s commission on voter fraud requested a wide range of voter information from all 50 states, Colorado election officials say they’re still dealing with a flood of complaints from angry voters — and widespread confusion about what state law requires. In an attempt to reassure the public, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams on Wednesday took the unusual step of calling a news conference to reiterate much of what he said a week ago: namely, he plans to “follow the law” by providing whatever information is publicly available under Colorado law — no more, no less.
His cooperation comes against a backdrop of vocal resistance from Democrats and Republicans alike. But a closer examination of how states are responding to the request shows that Williams’ actions — if not his public statements — are largely in line with those of many of his counterparts across the country.
Confused? Don’t be. Here are answers to many of the questions voters have been asking over the last week, and what state law actually says about your voter information:
Q : What is the Commission on Election Integrity, and what does it want?
A: Trump in May signed an executive order launching the commission, which is tasked with conducting a broad review of U.S. elections, with a focus on voter fraud, voter suppression and other “vulnerabilities.” The order came after Trump alleged — without evidence — that 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in his 2016 election victory against Democrat Hillary Clinton.
In a letter last week to all 50 states, commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach asked for all the “publicly available voter data” in each state, including each registered voter’s name, address, partial Social Security number (which isn’t public in Colorado), party affiliation and a record of which elections they participated in since 2006.
The commission also asked a slew of questions about voter fraud, elections administration and cybersecurity — a topic of increasing concern after U.S. intelligence agencies said they found evidence of Russian hackers attempting to infiltrate election systems across the country in 2016. part of the request — as are at least 43 other states, as of CNN’s latest running tally.
Williams has agreed to provide whatever information is considered public under Colorado law. He has also promised to withhold anything that isn’t public: in this case, Social Security numbers and a voter’s month and date of birth. Driver’s license numbers and email addresses are also confidential under Colorado law, but the commission didn’t request them.
Williams says it doesn’t matter whether the integrity commission has good motivations or political ones. State law requires him to provide public voter information to anyone who requests it. His office received more than 125 such requests last year from political campaigns, journalists and companies that may mine the information for business purposes.
For most requests, Colorado charges fees ranging from $50 for the registered voter list to $1,000 for a subscription to all of its public election data. But Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for the secretary of state’s office, said officials there often waive or reduce fees for journalists and government agencies. The commission will receive the information for free. at play here. For starters, different states have different laws dictating what’s public. So while Colorado can legally withhold only Social Security numbers and birth dates, Indiana, for example, is also withholding party affiliations and voting histories. Other states can deny public records to anyone who isn’t a state resident, regardless of what information is considered public there.
Another big difference is how Williams responded. While other secretaries of state criticized the request — Mississippi Republican Delbert Hosemann went so far as to tell Kobach to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico” — Williams applauded the federal government for seeking feedback on how the U.S. can improve its elections.
CNN reported Williams was one of only three secretaries of state to react positively to the request. birth year (not date or month), voter status (active or inactive) and whether the voter is a designated military or overseas voter.
A voter’s party affiliation is public, as are elections they participated in (though not how they voted). Under Colorado’s new semi-open primaries, that means an unaffiliated voter’s file will say whether he or she voted in a Republican or Democratic primary.
In large part, it’s because of the political backdrop. Trump launched the commission with a stated goal of addressing widespread voter fraud that experts say isn’t occurring.
And civil rights groups fear it could be used to suppress legitimate voters instead of merely cleaning the rolls of those who have died or moved to another state.
“This meritless inquisition opens the door for a misguided and ill-advised Commission to take steps to target and harass voters and could lead to purging of the voter rolls,” Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
The request has also brought to light something many voters may not have realized — just how much of their information is public already under state law. to have their information withheld if they apply with their county elections office to become a “confidential voter.” But to become one, you have to sign an affidavit saying you’re worried that you or someone in your family will be harassed or in physical danger if your voter information is made public. The provision was added primarily with law enforcement and victims of domestic violence in mind, but anyone can apply if he or she has a reasonable fear of harm.
Some voters are taking more drastic action and are canceling their voter registration entirely, possibly with plans to re-register after the data is provided to the commission. Denver elections officials are urging voters not to do that.
Williams said he plans to provide the state’s voter information to the commission July 14.