At least twenty states have signaled resistance or rejected a request from President Donald Trump’s administration for data for every registered voter in the U.S.
The request was submitted via letters to all secretary of state offices in the nation and the District of Columbia by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on 29 June 2017, seeking information that includes the names, party affiliations, addresses, military statuses and the last four digits of the voters’ Social Security numbers, as well as voting history from 2006 onward.
Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice-chair and current Kansas secretary of state, has claimed in the past, as has Trump, that U.S. voter fraud is widespread — but without providing evidence. Trump signed an executive order creating the commission in May 2017, which quickly spurred accusations that it would be used to implement, rather than investigate, voter suppression.
Eighteen states — Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, North Dakota, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Tennessee, Vermont, and Virginia — have fully rebuked Kobach’s call for voter data, including an invitation from Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann in a statement of his own:
They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.
Even Kobach’s home state of Kansas balked, prompting backtracking from his office:
“In Kansas, the Social Security number is not publicly available. … Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available,” Kobach said.
He did not rule out the possibility of providing that information to the commission in the future.
“If the commission decides that they would like to receive Social Security numbers to a secure site in order to remove false positives, then we would have to double check and make sure Kansas law permits,” Kobach said.
“I know for a fact that this information would be secured and maintained confidentially,” he added in response to security concerns.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) made reference to the allegations that led Trump to create the commission in a statement:
New York refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election. We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud.
Several other states have responded by saying that they will only share information that is already publicly available.
Voter advocacy groups have also come out against the commission’s push for access to the data, which it said it wanted by 14 July 2017. League of Women Voters president Chris Carson said in a statement that her group would support any state that refused to comply with Kobach’s request:
There is no justification for this giant fishing expedition. The Commission itself is a distraction from the real issue of voter suppression, and that efforts to “investigate voter fraud” threaten our most fundamental voting rights. This most recent move by Mr. Kobach is an indicator that the so-called Election “Integrity” Commission is not interested in facts, but false accusations and dangerous policy recommendations.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law also condemned Kobach’s letters and called on his counterparts in other states to “discourage state and local officials” from participating in the commission’s activities:
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.
Kobach has not elaborated on how information collected by the commission would be kept safe.
Before joining Trump’s administration, Kobach worked as an attorney for the Federation for American Immigration Reform, a hardline anti-immigration group. In September 2016, a federal appeals court found that Kobach had provided “precious little” evidence that non-U.S. citizens were engaging in voter fraud.