Despite criticism from most states about the Trump administration’s request for voters’ personal information, half have said they will deliver some or all of that data to the White House election commission.
And that number could grow, President Donald Trump said on Wednesday, with more than 30 states turning over some information, including names, addresses and birth dates, to the group being run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.
“If any state does not want to share this information, one has to wonder what they’re worried about,” Trump said, questioning the motives of states that have not complied with requests for information. “ What are they worried about? There’s something. There always is.”
Trump created the elections commission after claiming — without evidence — that millions of people had voted illegally and deprived him of a popular-vote victory. He has argued specifically that fraud denied him a win in three states: California, New Hampshire and Virginia. Independent groups and election officials said there was no evidence of either charge, but Kobach said Wednesday that the public would never know the true results of the election.
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Kobach and other members acknowledged that they intend to compare the data collected from states against each other as well as federal databases for felons, undiscovered noncitizens and people who vote in more than one state.
“If you don’t have the voter rolls, you really can’t even begin to assess the accuracy,” Kobach said after the commission’s first in-person meeting. “You are blind. You don’t have the ability to assess the credibility of evidence brought before the commission.”
The data requests have alarmed some voting rights groups, which say they think the administration will try to kick people off voter rolls.
“This fishing expedition for voter information is intended to lead to more voter suppression – not improving our election process,” said League of Women Voters President Chris Carson, who says thousands of voters have canceled their registrations since the requests were made.
Our whole election system is based on the voter rolls being publicly available because that’s how our political process works
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach
Republican and Democratic election officials in most states have criticized the commission for asking for public data on the nation’s 200 million registered voters, including full names, addresses, birth dates, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, voting history, party affiliations and other personal information.
The request spurred legal action. Earlier this month, the commission asked states to delay sending any information pending a court ruling.
Four Democratic lawmakers sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence, who serves as the chairman of the commission and attended the first meeting, asking for Kobach to be removed from the group given his repeated and unsubstantiated allegations of voter-fraud. They also told Pence the commission should withdraw its information requests.
Aides to Pence did not respond to requests to list the 30 states.
According to the Brennan Center for Justice, which has collected public statements from all 50 states, 17 stateshave agreed to provide the commission with data allowable by state law —that includes Florida, North Carolina and Washington. Another eight states have indicated they would release the information, if certain conditions are met, primarily paying a fee.
Most, if not all, will withhold Social Security numbers. Kansas and Missouri plan to provide the other data, though both states with withhold partial Social Security numbers. Missouri said it will also withhold voting history.
The District of Columbia and 21 states have declined to provide any data.
“Anyone complaining about this process should be asked why they oppose honest elections where only those legally able to vote under the U.S. Constitution participate,” said Rick Manning, president of Americans for Limited Government.
I am old enough to remember when African Americans were denied access to the ballot box, and I fear that we are watching history repeat itself
Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said the commission could engage in a “never-ending amount of mischief” even with partial information, including compiling lists of those who they claim are in the country illegally or who have registered twice.
Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights project, said that the aggregation, transmission and storage of the data poses some privacy and security concerns.
“Even if we’re talking about publicly available data there’s a big difference between data that’s scattered throughout 50 states and data that is centralized in one location,” Ho said. “It becomes a juicy target.”
Kobach said he does not anticipate suing any states for the information, but will approach states officials and ask them what it will take to turn over the information.
Several other federal groups have looked into voting practices nationwide in the last two decades, but Kobach said this is the first nationwide inquiry to collect this data.
The commission will review claims of improper registrations and voting, fraudulent registrations and voter suppression. Members will provide Trump with a report in 2018 and may issue recommendations to the states.
At the same time, the Justice Department requested that 44 states subject to the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 explain how they are complying with the law to keep their voter registration lists accurate.
Justice spokesperson Devin O’Malley said the department had not conducted a review of state and local list-maintenance activities for many years.
“The Department of Justice is committed to free and fair elections for all Americans,” O’Malley said. “Congress enacted the NVRA's list-maintenance provisions specifically to advance that goal.”
Bryan Lowry of the Kansas City Star contributed.