On May 11, 2017, President Trump announced the formation of the Bipartisan Presidential Commission on Election Integrity. The makeup of the commission is as follows:
- Mike Pence, Vice President of the United States & Chair (R)
- Kris Kobach Secretary of State of Kansas & Vice Chair (R)
- Connie Lawson, Secretary of State of Indiana (R)
- Bill Gardner, Secretary of State of New Hampshire (D)
- Matthew Dunlap, Secretary of State of Maine (D)
- Ken Blackwell, Former Secretary of State of Ohio (R)
- Christy McCormick, Commissioner, Election Assistance Commission (D)
It’s important to note that Trump may add members to this commission in the future:
Additional Commission members will be named at a later time. It is expected the Commission will spend the next year completing its work and issue a report in 2018.
On June 28th, the highest-ranking election official for each state received a letter from Kobach. Each letter contianed a request for voter information. Here is the pertinant section from the letter to Dennis Richardson, Secretary of State of Oregon:
In addition, in order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly-available voter roll data for Oregon, including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social
security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, canceled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.
It’s important to note that the letter appears to request only the “publicly-available voter roll data” and only the information that is “publicly available under the laws of your state”.
Strangely, the request was not interpreted this way by a number of states. Leading to number of responses, including this amazing line from Delbert Hosemann, Republican Secretary of State of Mississippi:
They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from.
Even Kobach seemed to be confused about the request at first:
Kobach said Thursday that Kansas would provide all the information requested in the letter, but in a follow-up interview Friday, he said the state would not be sharing the Social Security information at this time.
“In Kansas, the Social Security number is not publicly available. … Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available,” Kobach said.
Here in Oregon, Secretary of State Dennis Richardson is agree to release the same amount of information at Kobach (and a number of other states). On June 30th, Richardson sent a letter to Kobach with the following information:
Oregon policy prohibits disclosure of some of the information that you requested, such as social security numbers and drivers’ license numbers. Please see ORS 247.945(4) and ORS 247.955. It is my duty to follow these statutes. Oregon Law provides that any person may receive a statewide list of electors upon payment of $500. It is a violation of Oregon law for voter registration data to be used for commercial purposes.
Richardson’s response is both consistent with the request from the commission and the response by the commission’s vice chair, Kobach.
On July 5th, Kobach issued a statement that is likely a response to a story from CNN with the headline Forty-four states and DC have refused to give certain voter information to Trump commission. Kobach’s statement issued by the White House:
On June 28, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity issued a letter requesting that states provide publicly available voter data as permitted under their state laws. At present, 20 states have agreed to provide the publicly available information requested by the Commission and another 16 states are reviewing which information can be released under their state laws. In all, 36 states have either agreed or are considering participating with the Commission’s work to ensure the integrity of the American electoral system.
While there are news reports that 44 states have “refused” to provide voter information to the Commission, these reports are patently false, more “fake news”. At present, only 14 states and the District of Columbia have refused the Commission’s request for publicly available voter information. Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American’s vote because the public has a right to know.
Kobach’s statement refutes a narrative that doesn’t appear to exist. The CNN headline is clear that 44 states have refused to provide social security numbers and drivers’ license numbers but not all of them have refused to hand over their public voter files.
Thus far the Commission is currently acting with no more authority than George Clooney would have if he requested the same information. In fact, they’re already doing something both the RNC and DNC did years ago: create a database of all U.S. voters based on publicly available information.
Kobach has suggested that the commission could partner with the Department of Justice in the future to obtain the additional information most states aren’t currently willing to disclose.
Kobach said Friday that the commission has no legal authority to compel states to hand over the information but that the Justice Department does possess such power. He said he could not say whether the department would become involved in the effort to obtain information from states. First, he said, the commission wants to see what information it receives from states.
If that happens this will become a much different story. At present, I think both sides are attempting to shoot some easy baskets to score a few political points.