More than two dozen states have refused to fully comply with a sweeping and unprecedented White House request to turn over voter registration data, including sensitive information like partial Social Security numbers, party affiliation and military status.
Overall, the states that have said they will not be complying at all with the Kobach commission’s request represent over 30 percent of the nation’s population. That could complicate any efforts to build a truly national voter file, although it remains unclear what the commission’s ultimate goal is in collecting the data.
Those states found themselves the targets of the President Trump’s ire on Twitter on Saturday morning: “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?”
As it turns out, the bipartisan group of state officials withholding information from the commission have been very forthcoming about their reasons for not complying. Here’s what a number of them have said.
“I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, a Democrat.
“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach,” he added. “[Kobach’s] role as vice chair is proof that the ultimate goal of the commission is to enact policies that will result in the disenfranchisement of American citizens.”
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, another Democrat, struck a similar note.
“The president created his election commission based on the false notion that ‘voter fraud’ is a widespread issue — it is not,” Grimes said. “Kentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”
A number of states said they would only provide limited, publicly available information, as required by state law.
Vermont Secretary of State James Condos (D) said “I am bound by law to provide our publicly available voter file, but will provide no more information than is available to any individual requesting the file.”
North Carolina will comply with the request by handing over “publicly available data as already required under state law,” said Kim Westbrook Strach, the executive director of the bipartisan North Carolina State Board of Elections and Ethics enforcement.
Mississippi rejected the request on privacy and states’ rights grounds. “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said on Friday. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral process.”
In Alabama, another GOP stronghold, Secretary of State John Merrill told the Montgomery Advertiser he will not comply with the request until he learns more about how the Kobach commission will keep the data secure. “We’re going to get answers to our questions before we move on this,” Merrill said.
Perhaps most strikingly, at least two of the holdouts were members of the commission, including commission co-chairman Kris Kobach himself, who said that state law prevented them from fully complying with the request.
The Kansas secretary of state, a Republican, 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.”
Similarly, 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.” Lawson, another Republican, is also a member of the commission.
Trump’s tweet suggests the commission’s work remains a top priority for him. That’s going to cause concern for elections experts and voting rights activists, many of whom are concerned that Kobach will use the state voter registration data to manufacture “evidence” of widespread voter fraud.
“We’re concerned about unlawful voter purging, which has been something that Kris Kobach has been leading the charge,” said Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and former head of the Justice Department’s civil rights division, in an interview Friday.
Gupta and others argue that Kobach doesn’t exactly have a reputation for being honest about his work on voter fraud. Just a week ago, a federal judge fined Kobach $1,000 for “presenting misleading arguments in a voting-related lawsuit.”