States and Trump voter fraud commission set for showdown

A growing number of states are refusing to cooperate fully with President Trump’s voter fraud commission, setting the stage for a showdown over the nation's elections.

The White House commission, led by Vice President Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has asked all 50 states and Washington, D.C., to turn over publicly available information on its voters, including names, birth dates, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and party affiliation if the state law allows in the hopes of shoring up the nation’s election systems.  

But state officials are crying foul over the request, refusing to turn over some or all of the information requested by the White House. Some states are going further, lampooning the request as part of an attempt to justify Trump’s repeated claims, presented without evidence, that millions of fraudulent votes were cast in the 2016 election.

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Blue states aren’t the only ones refusing to provide information to the commission. A bipartisan list of officials in at least 20 states, including reliably red states like Mississippi and Oklahoma, had pushed back on the request as of Friday afternoon.

“In the event I were to receive correspondence from the Commission ... My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from,” Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said in a Friday statement.

Top Democratic officials in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia have all released statements blasting the commission and refusing to turn over any information.

“They’ve clearly reached their conclusions already and have set up a commission to try to justify voter suppression measures being made nationally. It’s pretty shocking, the data request of a lot of personal information,” Alex Padilla, California’s Democratic secretary of state, told The Hill.

“I can’t even begin to entertain responding to this commission.”

Officials in other states, including Connecticut, Georgia, Iowa, Indiana, Minnesota, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Vermont and Wisconsin have expressed their reluctance by agreeing to only turn over publicly available information. And Kobach has admitted that Kansas can’t turn over the partial Social Security numbers requested by his commission thanks to state law.

Election officials opposing the voter roll requests had a wide range of concerns. 

Some said they were legally barred from turning over private information, while others said they won’t turn over the information until they know how the commission plans to use it.

In the wake of the Russian hacking campaign during the presidential race, some pointed out that the current, decentralized nature of American elections makes it difficult to manipulate tallies or registration data.

“If you want to do [Russian President] Vladimir Putin a favor, put all of this personal voter information in one place, online, on the Internet,” Padilla said.

Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) told The Hill she had a number of concerns with the White House’s request. Lundergan Grimes said the commission was “formulated on a sham premise” and represents a violation of states’ right to run their own elections and voter registration.

She also criticized the idea of a federal database that will include political preference.

“Folks are very worried about being victims of political retribution,” she said.

“We don’t want to be a part of an attempt to nationalize voter suppression efforts across the state. Americans didn’t want, unanimously, a national gun registry, and they don’t want a national voter registry.”

In Kansas, Kobach’s push for stricter voting laws has drawn criticism from Democrats, with the ACLU dubbing him the “king of voter suppression.”

The commission heated up this week, when Kobach announced his intent to send the requests to the states during a phone call with commission members.

Trump’s appointment this week of Heritage Foundation staffer Hans von Spakovsky also drew serious criticism from voting rights activists who have long viewed the former Federal Elections Commission member unfavorably. 

Von Spakovsky told The Hill that the opposition to the letter is “bizarre” because the request only asks for publicly available information.

He pointed to a 2012 Pew Research study that found almost two million dead voters still on voter rolls and almost 3 million people registered in multiple states as proof that more scrutiny is needed in the voting process.

“The whole point of this commission is to research and look at all of these issues, the issues the Pew study raised,” he said.

“The more accurate information they have in the voter registration records, the better the final result is going to be.”

While proponents of stricter voting laws frequently cite the Pew study, its author has said that it found no evidence of voter fraud. Being listed on the roles in more than one state is not illegal unless a voter casts a ballot in multiple states.

Von Spakovsky said federal statutes give the public the right to inspect publicly available voter registration records, while the attorney general can demand copies of records related to federal elections.

Marc Lotter, Pence’s press secretary and a special assistant to the president, emphasized to The Hill that the letter only requests information that “they already make available” as a public record and will be “housed through a federally secure system.”

“This is nothing unusual, they are seeking publicly available information which varies from state to state,” he said.

“If something is publicly available, then it’s included in that request. If it’s not, it’s not something we’re requesting.”

Lotter added that the commission aims to best practices to “ensure the integrity of the voter systems” and shore up the security of election systems across the country. He wouldn’t say how the commission plans to handle states that refuse to provide voter rolls, noting only that the commission’s goal is to “work with everyone.”

Officials in other states haven’t rejected the request yet. Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, a Democratic member of the election commission who said he’s analyzing the commission's request and hopes to comply with it, called for patience.

While Dunlap is “highly doubtful” the investigation will substantiate Trump’s claim of millions of illegal votes, he said it could “serve a purpose” even if it proves the president wrong.