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States Resist Giving Data To Trump’s ‘Voter Integrity’ Commission

Donald Trump Voting

For several months now, President Trump has been telling a variety of lies, so many that being a fact-checker in the Trump Era seems to be becoming a full-time job. While many of Trump’s lies center around things having to do with his Administration, such as its alleged accomplishments, which are in fact minimal, the investigation into Russia interference with the election and possible collusion between people close to Trump and Russian officials, and his seemingly unending attacks on the media, the largest number of those lies have centered on Trump himself and his obsession with the outcome of the election.

Ever since November 8th, Trump has been obsessed with commenting on his victory, and with making largely unsupported claims about it in an obvious effort to boost his ego. For example, Trump has claimed that he won the Electoral College by a landslide, a claim that is an easily demonstrated falsehood regardless of whether Trump means a landslide historically, compared to recent elections, or compared to recent elections where Republicans won. In reality, Trump’s win ranks 46th out of the 58 Presidential elections that have been held in this country, and 8th on a list of the last ten Presidential elections starting with Ronald Reagan’s win over President Carter.  More pernicious than this lie about the Electoral College, though, has been Trump’s claim that “millions” of “illegal votes” were cast during the election. It began shortly after the election, with a claim by Trump, on Twitter of course, that he would have won the popular vote if it weren’t for those alleged “illegal votes.” That alleged illegal voting came, according to Trump, in states that Hillary Clinton won, including California, New Hampshire, and Virginia. Despite the fact that there is literally no evidence to support this claim, Trump has continued to make the claim and, shortly after he took office, announced the formation of a so-called ‘voter integrity’ commission to examine these unproven claims of voter fraud.

That commission, headed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who has made his career most notably as a nationwide leader on what many opponents see as an effort to make it harder for groups inclined to vote for Democrats, has recently run into controversy as a number of states, including many controlled by Republicans, have resisted its efforts to obtain data about voters that includes a treasure trove of personal information:

A White House commission’s sweeping request for the personal and public data of the nation’s 200 million voters set off an avalanche of opposition by state leaders in both parties on Friday, as officials from California to Mississippi called the move an overreach and more than 20 states declared they would not comply.

It was an inauspicious start for the panel, which was created after President Trump claimed last winter that millions of illegal votes had robbed him of a popular-vote victory over Hillary Clinton.

The vice chairman and day-to-day leader of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, Kris Kobach, had asked election officials in a letter to turn over the data “if publicly available,” apparently to aid a nationwide search for evidence of election irregularities. Besides election information like voters’ names and party affiliations, the commission sought personal information including birth dates, felony conviction records, voting histories for the past decade and the last four digits of all voters’ Social Security numbers.

Mr. Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, has said he wants to match voter information with other data, like federal records of foreign residents and undocumented immigrants, to spotlight people who cast illegal ballots. He asserts that such fraud is widespread in Kansas and elsewhere, although he has found scant evidence of it so far.

But a growing number of state election officials have indicated — sometimes politely, sometimes brusquely — that they will not or cannot comply. Among them, ironically, were Mr. Kobach himself and a second member of the commission, Secretary of State Connie Lawson of Indiana, both of whom disclosed on Friday that privacy laws prevented them from furnishing some personal voter data.

By Friday, an informal tally by voting-rights advocates indicated that election officials in at least 22 states had partly or completely rejected the commission’s request.

California, Massachusetts, Virginia, New York and Kentucky all quickly rejected the request. Other states, like Connecticut and Tennessee, said state law barred them from turning over some data. Wisconsin pledged to provide what it legally could, if the commission paid the $12,500 fee charged to anyone who copies the voter rolls.

Kentucky’s secretary of state, Alison Lundergan Grimes, said that Mr. Trump’s premise for creating the commission in the first place — that voter fraud was pervasive and needed to be reined in — was itself a fraud.

“Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an effort to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country,” Ms. Grimes, a Democrat, wrote in response to Mr. Kobach’s request.

The pushback was bipartisan: The Mississippi secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said Friday that he had not received a request from the commission, but colorfully suggested he would not honor one if it came.

“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Mr. Hosemann said in a statement. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

Mr. Kobach, whose spokeswoman did not respond to phone and email messages, told The Kansas City Star on Friday that he was not concerned by other states’ refusals to disclose voters’ personal data. “That’s perfectly fine,” the newspaper quoted him as saying. “We understand that. And that is entirely up to each state.”

In an interview last week with The Washington Times, Mr. Kobach said the accusations from voting-rights advocates and Democrats that the commission is a pretense for a voter-suppression enterprise designed to benefit Republicans were “complete and utter nonsense.” Mr. Kobach told the newspaper that the act of collecting data posed no threat to voters, saying that the commission intended to match voter rolls with the federal government’s database of noncitizens — including permanent residents, undocumented immigrants who had been apprehended and others — in a search for fraudulent ballots.

Many of the Secretaries of State who have responded to the Commissions request have noted that, while some of the data requested by the commission is public data that anyone can obtain either online or by visiting the appropriate state office, a good deal of it is protected by state privacy laws and that they are prevented from complying with the request even if they wanted to do so so. Additionally, some privacy and security experts have warned that releasing the data the commission is asking for could make millions of Americans vulnerable to hackers and identity thieves seeking even more personal information. Somewhat ironically, even Commission Chairman Kris Kobach is finding it necessary to turn down his own requests for some voter data because state law forbids him from sharing it. Finally, there are concerns from all quarters have raised the possibility that making this data available in some centralized location could make Americans vulnerable to politically-based intimidation in the future, either from politicians or government officials.

President Trump, meanwhile, has responded to this bipartisanly negative response to his commission by accusing the states of trying to hide something:

The reality, of course, is that there is nothing to hide. As I noted, in most of these cases the states that are refusing to comply are controlled by Republicans, and many of them are states where the data quite simply cannot be shared with the public because of existing state laws. In many cases, states are complying with the commission in part or at least allowing it to access the same information available to members of the general public. What they’re often refusing to do is to break the law in order to aid the Commission, or to make it easy for the Commission by giving it data that it can obtain on its own simply by visiting the appropriate office or website.

In the end, of course, this entire Commission is based on a claim that has not been proven about millions of people voting illegally in the elecIts. It’s intention is clearly to find so-called evidence to back up this claim by Trump, which is really based on myths that have spread far and wide in Republican circles for years now. According to these myths, voter fraud is a common phenomenon, one that is often cited after a close Republican loss as the reason for that loss. It is this myth that has been the impetus for the Voter ID laws that have been passed in states controlled by the Republican Party, most especially since the 2010 elections when the GOP began their string of grabbing control of a majority of the state legislatures and Governorships in the country. In reality, there has never been any real evidence provided that widespread voter problem has been a decisive factor in an election, or that it is a significant problem. This is especially true of the kind of in-person voter fraud that Voter ID laws are supposedly intended to combat.

All of this has led to the suspicion that many of these laws are really intended to make it harder for groups that are more likely to support Democrats, such as minorities and the poor, to vote or register to vote. This has led to significant litigation regarding such laws, especially in states such as Texas, Wisconsin, and North Carolina, where there has often been direct evidence that Voter ID laws and other changes to election laws were being enacted with the specific intention of making it harder for groups that tend to vote Democratic to vote. Now, this Presidential Commission is seeking to prove something that has been disproven on several occasions, and many are concerned that it will lead to new efforts at the state level that will make it harder for those groups to vote or register to vote. Given that, the resistance from the states is welcoming, and hopefully just the beginning of the kind of state-level resistance that will be needed in the Trump Era.

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Ah yes, Kris Kobach, Kansas Secretary of State, whose own office (after the most recent election) found a grand total of 10 honest to Dog cases of voter fraud. Out of over 1,000,000 votes. *10. You know the best part of it? 8 of the fraudsters were Republicans.*

    It really is projection with these guys.

    *(or so I read in the last couple days, forget where)

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 17 Thumb down 0

  2. Mister Bluster says:

    The Fifty Nifty better watch out or Pork Chop Pud will put them all in a Data Lock and he will get what he wants!

    Content by Mashable
    (apologies to Porkchop Cash.)

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  3. David in KC says:

    Kobach, who is the only Secretary of State that has the ability to prosecute voter fraud cases has 9 convictions in 2 years. 7 of which are retired folks with homes in two states and involved absentee ballots, 1 case where a Peruvian in the process of becoming a citizen registered before his citizenship process was finished, and 1 other one which I can’t seem to find the information on right now because I didn’t feel like going through more pages of search results.

    Out of the 8 listed above, requiring an ID would have caught none of them. Breakdown on party was 7 registered republicans, didn’t find party affiliation on the other 3, so independent or democrat most likely.

    1.8 million registered voters in KS, 9 convictions, yeah, a great use of time and money. And this is the guy who is running the day to day operations of this commission. Not sure how he has the time with the rampant fraud in KS…

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  4. CSK says:

    Anyone who seriously purports to believe that hordes of illegals voting in New Hampshire gave Clinton the win there is not tethered too closely to reality.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 11 Thumb down 0

  5. JKB says:

    This is great. Six months of going on and on about how the election was compromised by the Russians and now the establishment Democrats and Republicans are refusing to cooperate with a Presidential commission set up to investigate. We can add that to the demonstrated use of federal and state offices to suppress the Tea Party from being able to operate.

    Now, will the average voter have confidence in the integrity of the elections when officials hide data the could show election fraud, corruption and fixing?

    Or maybe everyone will greet Trumps suspension of elections with cheer? That’s what he’s suppose to do isn’t it?

    Playing right into his hands.

    Poorly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 41

  6. CSK says:

    @JKB:

    Are they refusing to cooperate or…obeying state law? Even Kobach can’t provide the information his commission wants.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  7. Facebones says:

    @JKB: And like clockwork, the illiterate dead enders appear to defend Dear Leader

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 1

  8. al-Ameda says:

    @JKB:

    Now, will the average voter have confidence in the integrity of the elections when officials hide data the could show election fraud, corruption and fixing?

    Question: Except for possible Trump knowledge of, and Trump staff collusion with, Russian officials who planned to tamper with our election, who (other than Trump and Kobach) pretends to believe that well over 3 million illegal votes were cast in the 2016 election?

    Answer: Oh wait, I know, 62 million Trump voters, the same people who believe that all actual news is #FakeNews.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 18 Thumb down 0

  9. NW-Steve says:

    @JKB

    Six months of going on and on about how the election was compromised by the Russians and now the establishment Democrats and Republicans are refusing to cooperate with a Presidential commission set up to investigate.

    I’m prepared to wager a pretty good dinner on the proposition that this commission won’t even mention the possibility of Russian meddling.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 23 Thumb down 0

  10. michael reynolds says:

    @JKB:

    Right, so Trump obstructs the FBI and Mueller, the actual investigation, and we’re meant to believe that a ‘commission’ based entirely on an absurd and discredited conspiracy theory and run by Kobach whose own record disproves the thesis, is a legit investigation.

    Pizzagate? Birtherism? Ted Cruz’s father killing JFK? Is there any point at which you will gag on your diet of Trump’s scat?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 24 Thumb down 1

  11. Slugger says:

    All of us conservatives are bothered by the federal government overstepping its bounds via the method of investigations into crimes for which there is almost no evidence. The idea “What are they hiding?” is chilling to all who respect the Constitution.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  12. Kylopod says:

    @Slugger:

    All of us conservatives are bothered by the federal government overstepping its bounds via the method of investigations into crimes for which there is almost no evidence.

    One should hope a reluctance to investigate crimes for which there is almost no evidence isn’t a matter of ideology at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  13. An Interested Party says:

    This is great. Six months of going on and on about how the election was compromised by the Russians and now the establishment Democrats and Republicans are refusing to cooperate with a Presidential commission set up to investigate.

    Wow, you’re as disingenuous as the buffoon in the White House…this commission’s purpose has absolutely nothing to do with Russian involvement in the elections…and since when did alleged lovers of freedom like you not have a problem with states turning over private information about citizens to the federal government? There is indeed the stench of hypocrisy in all of this, but it’s coming from the Bozo-in-Chief and his useful idiots–you and your fellow travelers…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  14. george says:

    @JKB:

    On the other hand, the GOP and conservatives in general have been arguing that the federal gov’t has been infringing on state rights. But when states act according to those rights and refuse to give in to the federal gov’t suddenly the same conservatives are saying they should do as the President requests.

    So, which is it? Do the states have the right to act independently on things the constitution sets aside for them or not? You can’t have it both ways, states rights applies both when you want it to apply and when it doesn’t.

    In this particular case, I notice there are GOP states who are also refusing to give the President what he wants. Does that give you pause to reconsider?

    And what kind of limited gov’t thinks the federal gov’t should have their hands on the information on the voter’s list? That same gov’t you don’t trust to run something as relatively simple and benign as healthcare you now trust with private information on voters? Seriously?

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  15. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    I think the question goes back to the earlier post on Trump hypocrisy. Conservatives are totally motivated by interest solely and exclusively in their ideology. In that case, things that make their ideology stronger and lend support to their interests are good and things that don’t are bad. No moral compass, no higher good, no hypocrisy, just sociopathy.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 2

  16. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @JKB:

    Six months of going on and on about how the election was compromised by the Russians and now the establishment Democrats and Republicans are refusing to cooperate with a Presidential commission set up to investigate.

    Did somebody fart? ‘Cause who boy something sure does stink.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  17. SC_Birdflyte says:

    Where is the funding for this circle jerk coming from? Out of DT’s own pockets?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  18. CSK says:

    @SC_Birdflyte:

    He’d never pay for it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  19. DrDaveT says:

    @JKB:

    and now the establishment Democrats and Republicans are refusing to cooperate with a Presidential commission

    I had always suspected that the inevitable GOP insistence that obeying the law (no matter how stupid or counter-productive) is the most important thing was a sham. Thanks for removing any lingering doubt.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  20. Gromitt Gunn says:

    The Trumpkins who are falling over themselves to provide this info are the same group who consider a National ID Card to be a gateway to communism as well as marking oneself with the Sign of the Beast.

    (I wish I was joking).

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 19 Thumb down 0

  21. Mu says:

    So, which state has social security numbers, even in truncated form, available as public record?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 0

  22. Jen says:

    I fairly ticked off that NH is complying, but it appears as though they will only be providing name, address, vote history (including whether an R or D ballot was pulled in primaries).

    The curious thing about NH’s compliance on this is that state law is pretty specific about who can access this information in total. Citizens can go and look up the information, but state law only allows for the entire voter file to be provided in a limited number of situations. Here’s the statute in question, and it states:

    The secretary of state shall, upon request, provide to a political party, as defined in RSA 664:2, IV, or to a political committee, as defined in RSA 664:2, III, a list of the name, domicile address, mailing address, town or city, voter history, and party affiliation, if any, of every registered voter in the state. The secretary of state shall, upon request, provide to a candidate for county, state, or federal office a list of the name, domicile address, mailing address, town or city, voter history, and party affiliation, if any, of every registered voter in the state or in the candidate’s district. In this section, “voter history” means whether the person voted and, for primary elections, in which party’s primary the person voted, in each state election for the preceding 2 years. The secretary of state shall charge a fee of $25 plus $0.50 per thousand names or portion thereof in excess of 2,500 plus shipping charges for each copy of the list provided under this section. In addition, the secretary of state shall charge and collect on behalf of and remit to the supervisors of the checklist of each city and town the amount that such supervisors would have charged had the public checklist of their city or town been purchased from them. The secretary of state may provide lists as prescribed in this section on paper, computer disk, computer tape, electronic transfer, or any other form.

    (Emphasis added by me.) The statue then goes on to allow for transfer of the checklist to state and federal courts if ordered, etc.

    New Hampshire doesn’t even allow researchers access to this database, for crying out loud. IANAL, but from my reading of this statute, the commission not only doesn’t fit any of the permissible categories, it also is asking for more data than state law allows (prior 2 years, commission has asked for data back to 2006). I also want to know if the commission will be paying NH for the list, as required by law.

    These are the same people who argued that RealID was some kind of government conspiracy and put us way behind every other state in complying with that.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. michael reynolds says:

    @Jen:
    I assume (hope) there will be lawsuits challenging this.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  24. Just 'nutha ig'nint cracker says:

    @Gromitt Gunn: Nothing new here. The same group also supported Dubya’s proposal of a national identification number which would be tattooed to one’s hand to avoid counterfeiting. Some televangelists suggested that while it might “foreshadow” the Mark of the Beast, because of who was suggesting it, it couldn’t possibly be the genuine article. Dubya being a born-again Christian and stuff like that.

    Interestingly enough, progressive New Agers associated it with the Mark of the Beast and proposed that Dubya would be the agent that ushered in the End of Days. [Sigh–] If only they’d been right…

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  25. teve tory says:

    @Just ‘nutha ig’nint cracker:

    Dubya’s proposal of a national identification number which would be tattooed to one’s hand to avoid counterfeiting

    I used to be an alcoholic and my memory is not great, but I’m pretty sure George W Bush didn’t propose tattooing a number on everyone’s hand.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 0

  26. de stijl says:

    @JKB:

    These are the symptoms of outright hackery:

    Would the actions or words elicit the same response no matter which party was the source?

    Would the strength of your response be equal?

    If no, you are a hack.

    JKB, Had Obama established such a commission with the same purview, would your reaction and your words be the same?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 0

  27. Not the IT Dept. says:

    I suspect that for more than a few of these Republican-controlled states there’s a concern that Trump’s commission might prove that there is almost no voter fraud and that would make their own local voter suppression efforts null and void.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  28. george says:

    @Not the IT Dept.:

    Possibly, but more likely its just normal human reaction; as a species we tend to resist giving up control of our own affairs. That its an idiot like Trump asking just makes it worse.

    I suspect most States would resist this no matter who was President, and for the obvious reasons. Its just that most Presidents (all the previous ones in fact) knew better than to even ask.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  29. CB says:

    @CSK: @Facebones: @al-Ameda: @NW-Steve:

    Guys…that was as clear a case of trolling as I’ve ever seen on OTB. Why bother?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0