The voting panel has come under intense scrutiny and faced a wave of lawsuits since making a sweeping request last month for reams of “publicly-available voter roll data,” including names, addresses, dates of birth and partial Social Security numbers.
State leaders from both parties have expressed privacy concerns about potentially revealing personal information, while some officials and voting experts also have pushed back against the commission, which was formed by Trump after he repeatedly claimed — without evidence — that widespread voter fraud cost him the popular vote in last year’s presidential election. (Studies and state officials have found no evidence of widespread voting fraud.)
Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach (R), the commission’s vice chair, wrote in letters Wednesday that the voting panel prioritizes “the privacy and security of any non-public voter information.” Kobach vowed not to release “personally identifiable information from voter registration records” submitted to the group.
“Individuals’ voter registration records will be kept confidential and secure throughout the duration of the commission’s existence,” Kobach wrote in the letters to state officials. “Once the commission’s analysis is complete, the commission will dispose of the data as permitted by federal law.”
Kobach continued that the commission would make public only “statistical conclusions drawn from the data” and any “other general observations” pulled from the information. He also said that the commission will release anything that states may submit in response to other questions posed by the panel.
In his letters sent to states last month first asking for the voter data, Kobach had asked officials questions such as whether they could recommend any changes to federal election law, what information they could provide on voter fraud and a list of convictions for election-related crimes.
Kobach also wrote that the commission would allow state officials to securely submit data “directly to the White House computer system.”
The voting commission earlier this month had asked states and the District to hold off on submitting the data requested by the panel until a court could weigh in on a lawsuit filed by a privacy watchdog group. Trump administration officials had also said that they were abandoning plans to use a Pentagon-operated site to collect the data, instead designing a system inside the White House.
On Monday, a federal judge allowed the commission to go forward with its data request, ruling that the panel is exempt from federal privacy review requirements. U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of Washington wrote that just the “mere increased risk of disclosure stemming from the collection and eventual, anonymized disclosure of already publicly available voter roll information is insufficient” to block the voter data request.
According to Kobach’s letters, officials in more than 30 states have either agreed to provide the publicly available information sought by the commission or are working to figure out what records they can provide.
While some state officials have vowed to release no information to the commission, many others said they would release at least some of the requested details, in part because state laws prohibited releasing other data.
Some officials have made their responses public. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, sent a three-page letter to the commission earlier this week and posted it online.
Husted was one of numerous officials who pledged to send what information he could, and on Monday, he submitted a link to the details that Ohio law allows him to make public.
“When your work is completed, I believe that you will conclude as I have that voter fraud exists, it is rare and we should take reasonable measures to prevent it and hold violators accountable,” Husted wrote.
After the voting commission reiterated its request for information this week, officials in at least two states — California and Kentucky — quickly released statements saying they rejected this latest request, echoing their earlier refusal to turn over any data.
Kobach can continue to request personal data of California voters, but I will continue to refuse.
— Alex Padilla (@AlexPadilla4CA) July 26, 2017
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D) dismissed the letter from what he called “the President’s sham election commission.” Kentucky Secretary of State Alison L. Grimes (D) said “the compilation of every American voter’s information would build a national voter registration database, which is unnecessary to improving our elections, opposite our Constitution and state’s rights, and puts voters’ privacy and personal data at risk.”
Trump had said since his election that he lost the popular vote by nearly 3 million votes because 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally and, he added, none of those illegal ballots were cast for him.
To bolster these claims, Trump signed an executive order forming what is formally called the “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.” After a number of states came out late last month and said they would not provide voter information to the panel, Trump posted a statement on Twitter calling it a “very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL” and suggested that these states had something to hide.
Kobach wrote Wednesday that the commission approaches its task “without preconceived conclusions or judgments.” The commission has sparked controversy since its inception, much of it focusing on members such as Kobach, who has claimed that voter fraud is rampant.
When the panel met for the first time last week, Vice President Pence, who chairs the group, said it does not have any “preordained results.” In his remarks to the commission, Trump did not reiterate his previous claims that millions of people voted illegally, though he described hearing from voters concerned about “inconsistencies and irregularities which they saw, in some cases, having to do with very large numbers of people in certain states.”