Flood of com­plaints in voter data re­quest

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Eason

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.

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