The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Kris Kobach says he can’t comply with Kris Kobach’s voter data request

Donald Trump greeted  Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach at Trump's golf club in Bedminster Township, N.J., in November. (Photo by Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach co-chairs President Trump's voter fraud commission, which is tasked with finding evidence to support the president's unsubstantiated claim that there was widespread voter fraud in the 2016 election.

Kobach recently sent letters to all 50 states asking them to provide the commission with their entire voter files. The request specifically spelled out sensitive pieces of information the commission wants to obtain, including voters names, party affiliations, military status and the last four digits of voters' Social Security numbers.

As secretary of state, Kobach is tasked with supplying Kansas's data to the Trump commission. There's just one problem: He won't be able to fully comply with his own request.

Once again, California has thrown a wrench into Trump’s big plans

Kobach told the Kansas City Star on Friday that he would not be providing any parts of Kansas voters' Social Security numbers because that data is not publicly available under state law. "In Kansas, the Social Security number is not publicly available," he said. "Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available."

Many states have balked at all of part of the commission's request, citing legal and privacy concerns or an unwillingness to cooperate with a commission that elections experts worry is laying the groundwork for voter roll purges.

Another secretary of state who's a member of the Trump commission also said Friday that she is unable to comply with the request. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson said in a statement that “Indiana law doesn't permit the Secretary of State to provide the personal information requested by Secretary Kobach.” The only publicly available data, she said, were voters' names and their congressional district assignments.

How Trump’s nationwide voter data request could lead to voter suppression

Elections experts have said that the scope and details of the request suggest that the commission hasn't fully thought through the implications of what they're asking. For instance, while voter rolls are technically public data, many states have privacy laws preventing the disclosure of things like Social Security numbers and military status.

Kobach's letter also invited states to send the data by email, which is highly insecure. The federal privacy act may prevent the federal government from collecting information on voters' party affiliation, which the commission requested. And the two-week time frame the letter lays out for compiling the database strikes many experts as unrealistic.

Kobach sent the letter to all 50 secretaries of state, even though some of those secretaries of state are not the stewards of state voter information.

“What a blunder,” political scientist and elections expert Rick Hasen said on Twitter. “Kobach can't provide the information he himself requested in the letter. Oh my oh my.”

Kobach told the Kansas City Star that while his commission does not have the authority to compel states to hand over the data, he believes the U.S. Justice Department does have that power. He said he couldn't say whether the Justice Department would be involved in the commission's data request at a later date.

On Aug. 1, a federal judge declined to block the president's voter fraud commission from collecting voter data. (Video: Patrick Martin/The Washington Post)