Is Big Brother trying to keep you from voting? Could very well be. Donald Trump has created a “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” which he has directed to gather sensitive information about voters in every state and DC, including names, dates of birth, driver’s license numbers, party affiliation, voting history, and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.
Those requests, which many fear could be used as powerful new tool for voter suppression, have not gone over well. But despite dramatic refusals, some states have handed over data anyway.
Since the 2016 campaign, Donald Trump has repeatedly claimed that illegal votes caused him to lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by nearly 3 million votes. Of course, “[t]he claim that there were millions of illegal voters in this past election is false and unsupported by any credible evidence,” according to Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California Irvine. “The National Association of Secretaries of State, made up of the chief election officers of all 50 states, just issued a statement saying so.”
Nevertheless, Trump formed a commission to investigate his discredited claims, tapping Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as the Commission’s vice-chair. Kobach has a history of strong support of laws and policies that have led to many eligible voters being disenfranchised and that have been called acts of voter suppression designed to target minority and young voters, who tend to vote Democratic. Kobach told the Kansas City Star that although his commission might not have the authority to force states to reveal sensitive information about their voters, he believes the US Department of Justice does have that power. Trump’s pick to lead the Department of Justice, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, has his own contentious history with voting rights, including opposing the Voting Rights Act.
States Say Go Jump … But Some Are Lying
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla, among the first to forcefully refuse Kobach’s request, said it “would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud.” The responses to Kobach’s request have – on the surface – shown an all-too-rare bipartisan spirit. Kentucky Democratic Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes: “There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible.” Mississippi Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, Jr. told the commission to “go jump in Gulf of Mexico.” As of July 5, no less than 44 states have publicly partially or entirely refused to provide the requested information, some specifically citing the commission’s makeup and backstory. Even Kobach himself has said Kansas will not turn over all of the information he requested. Trump, as usual, took to Twitter, asking “what do they have to hide?” – an odd question in light of Trump’s own refusal to reveal information concerning his tax returns and connections to Russia.
But don’t be fooled: Mississippi’s Hosemann has already turned over the state’s entire voter rolls. And he’s not the only one: fully twenty-one states on the list of resisters have actually turned over some or all of the requested data to Kobach. Some of this data has been part of an ongoing program called the “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program,” a voluntary program in which the majority of states participate, which attempts to identify people registered and voting in more than one state. While in theory that’s fine, the program works by matching first and last names. John Smith? You could be purged from the voter rolls (even if you have a different middle name than another John Smith in another state). Jose Garcia? Duc Nguyen? You’re probably way out of luck. If it strikes you that this might disproportionately affect voters of color, database expert Mark Swedlund agrees: “I can’t tell you what the intent was. I can only tell you what the outcome is. And the outcome is discriminatory against minorities.”
And what about security? When all the voter data is combined in a massive database, there is huge potential for misuse, abuse, and theft. The commission has already shown their lack of concern over the security of voter information by recommending that states upload voter information to an unsecured website or send the information via email, which also is not secure. Fear of having their data stolen or misused may cause some voters to remove their names and information from state voter rolls by de-registering, leaving them unable to vote. The people most likely to do this would be those most likely to vote against Trump and his allies. Coincidence? You decide …
What You Can Do
Efforts to keep Americans from being able to conveniently and reliably cast their votes have been going on since our nation’s founding. Some states, including Missouri and New Jersey, have yet to decide whether to hand over voter information and may choose to comply. Do you have family or friends in states which have not expressed strong opposition to the commission? Encourage them to pressure their state governments to protect sensitive voter information. We cannot afford any further erosion of our democratic rights.
– By Andrew Phillips