Most states are pushing back or outright refusing to comply with the Trump administration’s request for voter registration data.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, formed by President Trump to investigate his widely debunked claim that millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, sent letters this week to the 50 secretaries of state across the country requesting information about voters.
The letter, signed by commission vice chairman and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), asked for names, addresses, birth dates and party affiliations of registered voters in each state. It also sought felony convictions, military statuses, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting records dating back to 2006, according to a copy of the letter obtained by The Hill.
Many states immediately raised concerns and voiced their opposition to providing the information.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) said that she does not intend to release the data.
"The president created his election commission based on the false notion that ‘voter fraud’ is a widespread issue — it is not,” Lundergan Grimes said. “I do not intend to release Kentuckians' sensitive personal data to the federal government.”
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, similarly said he won't turn over any information to the panel, telling members of the voter fraud commission to, "go jump in the Gulf of Mexico."
Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, took a similar line.
You can add PA to that list. We will not participate in this systematic effort to suppress the vote. https://t.co/EHnY2NJI5R— Governor Tom Wolf (@GovernorTomWolf) June 30, 2017
Trump has alleged that millions of illegal votes cost him the popular vote in November’s election, an assertion for which he has offered no evidence. Repeated academic and state studies of voter files show that only a handful of improper votes were cast in recent elections.
Chief election officials from both sides of the aisle expressed skepticism about Trump’s claim of voter fraud.
“In Ohio, we pride ourselves on being a state where it is easy to vote and hard to cheat,” said Jon Husted, Ohio’s Republican secretary of state. “Voter fraud happens, it's rare and when it happens we hold people accountable. I believe that as the Commission does its work, it will find the same about our state."
“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud,” Democratic Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement about the letter.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, both Democrats, said their states would not provide confidential information.
“New York refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election,” Cuomo said in a statement. “We will not be complying with this request.”
Even a member of the Kobach commission said her state would not comply. Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), the president of the National Association of Secretaries of State, announced in a statement that her state wouldn’t release certain information requested by Kobach.
“Indiana law doesn’t permit the Secretary of State to provide the personal information requested by Secretary Kobach,” Lawson said. “Under Indiana public records laws, certain voter info is available to the public, the media and any other person who requested the information for non-commercial purposes. The information publicly available is name, address and congressional district assignment.”
Officials in Wisconsin, Colorado and Texas said their states would release public information, but certain data, including full dates of birth and Social Security numbers, were confidential and would not be released. North Dakota’s director of elections, John Arnold, told The Hill that state law would not allow the presidential commission access to voter information.
“Wisconsin statutes do not permit the state to release a voter’s date of birth, driver license number or Social Security number,” Michael Haas, the administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in a release.
Oregon's secretary of state said the state typically charges for voter information such as names, addresses and voting history and the commission was welcome to pay.
Even Kansas, where Kobach is secretary of state, will not share voters' Social Security information with the commission.
“In Kansas, the Social Security number is not publicly available," Kobach told the Kansas City Star. "Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available."
Officials in Connecticut, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington also expressed skepticism and said their states would withhold nonpublic information. North Carolina will provide all but the last four digits of Social Security numbers, dates of birth and driver's license numbers.
Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea (D) took her criticism further, saying Kobach was unfit to lead the commission, given his record of strict voting laws and a recent court fine for failing to produce documents related to a lawsuit over voting laws.
“It is deeply troubling that he has been given oversight of this commission by the president,” Gorbea said.
Kobach is an advocate of strict voter identification laws, which he says are necessary to combat fraud. Opponents say those laws hinder access to the polls primarily for elderly and minority voters.
Officials have raised questions about the commission’s discretion obtaining the confidential documents.
“State statutes permit the [Wisconsin commission] to share confidential information in limited circumstances with law enforcement agencies or agencies of other states,” Haas said. “The presidential commission does not appear to qualify under either of these categories.”
Trump appointed another voter identification supporter, Heritage Foundation fellow Hans von Spakovsky, to the commission Thursday. Von Spakovsky, one of Kobach’s mentors, has long advocated for stricter voter access rules.
The states which say they will not comply or will only partially comply by providing already public information are Alabama, Alaska, Arkansas, Arizona, California, Colorado,Connecticut, Delaware,Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas,Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan,Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, New Mexico, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia, Wyoming and Wisconsin.
- This story was updated July 5 at 4:02 p.m.