It's clear that Donald Trump and Mike Pence's "election integrity commission" is nothing but a vehicle for voter suppression. Fortunately, some states are fighting back.
When Donald Trump signed an executive order in May establishing an election integrity commission, it certainly seemed like it would be a tool of voter suppression.
And when he named Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach and Vice President Mike Pence to the commission, it was clear that’s exactly what it is. Now, the commission has demanded a wide swath of voter data from all 50 states, but some states are already resisting and refusing to provide that data.
Kobach has a track record of pushing the discredited myth of widespread voter fraud. On Thursday, when Kobach sent a letter to elections officials in all 50 states, he made very clear the function of the commission is to suppress the vote.
The letter requests extensive data — including names, felony convictions, and whether a voter is registered in another state.
Of course, being registered in two states isn’t necessarily an indication of anything nefarious. Jared Kushner and Sean Spicer were listed as being registered in two states, which happens when people move across state lines.
Felony convictions aren’t necessarily disqualifying either, depending on the state.
But this commission clearly presupposes there is voter fraud.
“The idea is to have the best data possible,” Kobach said. “The purpose of the commission is to quantify different forms of voter fraud and registration fraud and offer solutions.
This mindset isn’t just Kobach’s. Pence is the commission’s chair, and he shares Kobach’s suppression goals. As governor of Indiana, he played an instrumental role in shutting down a major voter registration drive focusing on African-American voters. As a candidate for vice president, he echoed Trump’s assertion the vote could be “rigged.”
The commission also seems ill-prepared to receive the massive amount of sensitive data it requested. The letter asks the states to send the voter information to an email inbox that is not encrypted.
Additionally, though Kobach’s letter explicitly states all data collected would be public, he later had to clarify that the voter registration data would be hosted on a secure non-public government server.
Fortunately, some states have already indicated they will push back against this unprecedented demand.
Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill said she would provide publicly available data but withhold data private under Connecticut law. She also called Kobach out for his “lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas” and said the commission hasn’t told her exactly what fraud it is investigating.
Democratic Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is refusing to provide any data and pulled no punches explaining why:
At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said much the same thing:
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.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said he “will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally.”
As Jason Kander, Missouri’s former secretary of state and president of Let America Vote, said in a powerful statement about the request:
It’s obviously very concerning when the federal government is attempting to get the name, address, birth date, political party and social security number of every voter in the country. I certainly don’t trust the Trump Administration with that information, and people across the country should be outraged.
It is clear that any data this commission collects will only be used to undermine, not enhance, confidence in America’s electoral system. It is imperative that more states refuse to provide this data and do not lend this commission any legitimacy.
Since the time this piece was published, another 14 states have refused to comply with the Trump administration’s request. The total number of states has increased from four to 19:
I'm now counting 18 states opposed to Kobach voter data request: CA, CT, IN, KY, MA, MN, NC, NM, NV, NY, OH, OK, RI, TN, UT, VA, VT, WA
— Ari Berman (@AriBerman) June 30, 2017
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
Even Kobach himself is refusing to comply with his own request in full:
— Bryan Lowry (@BryanLowry3) June 30, 2017