Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach swung back on Wednesday against a torrent of criticism of his request for voter information as part of a presidential commission he is helping to lead.
“Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American’s vote because the public has a right to know,” Kobach said in a statement issued by The White House.
Calling news reports about the request “fake news,” Kobach said 14 states have refused the request from President Donald Trump’s Election Integrity Commission. He called reports that 44 states have said they would not provide voter information “patently false.”
Forty-four states have said they will not provide some or all of the information sought by the commission, according to CNN, which asked all 50 states.
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Kobach’s request, sent last week, asks for voters’ names, dates of birth, political party, felony convictions and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, among other items.
Kobach, who is running for governor and chairing the commission with Vice President Mike Pence, is leading the effort to gather the information from states.
Some of the harshest criticism of the request has come from fellow secretaries of state.
“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Mississippi Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said.
New Mexico Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse-Oliver said last week she will never release personally identifiable information for New Mexico voters that is protected by law, including Social Security numbers and dates of birth.
Some states cannot legally provide all of the information. The Social Security information has proven particularly sensitive; even Kansas will not provide the last four digits of the number, Kobach has said.
Kobach’s statement says 20 states have agreed to provide voter data as permitted under state laws. Another 16 are reviewing what information can be released.
The statement came out around the same time Kobach responded to a privacy group suing to halt the voter information request.
In a new court filing, Kobach said that to his knowledge as of Wednesday “no Secretary of State has yet provided to the Commission any of the information requested in my letter.”
The suit was filed in federal court earlier this week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The Washington, D.C.-based group asked the court for a temporary restraining order to halt the collection of personal voter data.
In a statement posted on its website, the center said “that the Commission’s demand for detailed voter histories violated the Constitutional right to privacy.”
“The request for partial Social Security Numbers that are often used as default passwords for commercial services, coupled with the Commission’s plan to make such information ‘publicly available,’ is both without precedent and crazy,” the group said in a July 3 court filing.
Kobach’s response Wednesday accompanied a court filing from the U.S. Department of Justice arguing that the court should deny the privacy group’s request for the commission to stop collecting the voter data.
Lawyers in the Justice Department said in their filing that EPIC “alleged no facts that the organization itself has suffered any injury, nor did it identify a single member who is suffering injury.”
“EPIC seeks to halt this important work with meritless claims and baseless fear about the state’s voluntarily submitting publicly available voter data to the federal government,” the defense said in its filing.
EPIC also alleges in the suit that the commission failed to prepare and publish a privacy impact assessment regarding the information.
The Department of Justice attorneys said the commission is not required to perform the assessment.
Contributing: The Associated Press