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Your Papers Please: Trump Commission Demands Massive Amounts of Voter Data

| July 4, 2017

Electronic voting machines at the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections office. (Supervisor of Elections)

Electronic voting machines at the Flagler County Supervisor of Elections office. (Supervisor of Elections)

On Wednesday, all 50 states were sent letters from Kris Kobach — vice chair for the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — requesting information on voter fraud, election security and copies of every state’s voter roll data.


The letter asked state officials to deliver the data within two weeks, and says that all information turned over to the commission will be made public. The letter does not explain what the commission plans to do with voter roll data, which often includes the names, ages and addresses of registered voters. The commission also asked for information beyond what is typically contained in voter registration records, including Social Security numbers and military status, if the state election databases contain it.

President Donald Trump established the commission through an executive order on March 11. Its stated goal is to “promote fair and honest Federal elections” and it is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. The commission plans to present a report to Trump that identifies vulnerabilities in the voting system that could lead to fraud and makes recommendations for enhancing voters’ confidence in election integrity. No deadline has been set for completion of the work.

A number of experts, as well as at least one state official, reacted with a mix of alarm and bafflement. Some saw political motivations behind the requests, while others said making such information public would create a national voter registration list, a move that could create new election problems.

“You’d think there would want to be a lot of thought behind security and access protocols for a national voter file, before you up and created one,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola University School of Law and former Department of Justice civil rights official. “This is asking to create a national voter file in two weeks.”

David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation & Research, also expressed serious concerns about the request. “It’s probably a good idea not to make publicly available the name, address and military status of the people who are serving our armed forces to anyone who requests it,” he said.

Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas, has been concerned about voter fraud for years. His signature piece of legislation was a law requiring Kansans to show proof of citizenship when they register to vote, which is currently ensnarled in a fraught court battle with the American Civil Liberties Union. He has written that he believes people vote twice with “alarming regularity,” and also that non-citizens frequently vote. Multiple studies have shown neither happens with any consistency.

Kobach also runs the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, a proprietary piece of software started by Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh in 2005. Under the program, 30 states pool their voter information and attempt to identify people who are registered in more than one state.

Some expect the information Kobach has requested will be used to create a national system that would include data from all 50 states.

It is not uncommon for voters to be registered in more than one state. Many members of Trump’s inner circle — including his son-in-law Jared Kushner and daughter Tiffany Trump — were registered to vote in two states. Given the frequency with which voters move across state lines and re-register, the act of holding two registrations is not in itself fraud. There is no evidence to suggest that voting twice is a widespread problem, though experts say removing duplicate registrations are a good practice if done carefully.

“In theory, I don’t think we have a problem with that as an idea, but the devil is always in the details,” said Dale Ho, the director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project. While he believes voter registration list maintenance is important, he says Kobach’s Crosscheck program has been repeatedly shown to be ineffective and to produce false matches. A study by a group of political scientists at Stanford published earlier this year found that Crosscheck highlighted 200 false matches for every one true double vote.

“I have every reason to think that given the shoddy work that Mr. Kobach has done in this area in the past that this is going to be yet another boondoggle and a propaganda tool that tries to inflate the problem of double registration beyond what it actually is,” Ho said.

Some experts already see sloppy work in this request. On at least one occasion, the commission directed the letter to the incorrect entity. In North Carolina, it addressed and sent the letter to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, who has no authority over elections or the voter rolls. In that state, the North Carolina Board of Elections manages both.

Charles Stewart, a professor at MIT and expert in election administration, said it was proof of “sloppy staff work,” and questioned the speed at which the letter was sent. “It seems to me that the data aren’t going anywhere. Doing database matching is hard work, and you need to plan it out carefully,” he said. “It’s a naïve first undertaking by the commission, and reflects that the commission may be getting ahead of itself.”

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, who oversees voting in the state, said she was dismayed about the commission’s failure to be clearer about what its intentions are. In a statement, Merrill said her office would share publicly available information with the commission. But she said that “in the same spirit of transparency” her office would request the commission “share any memos, meeting minutes or additional information as state officials have not been told precisely what the Commission is looking for.”

“This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the Vice Chair of the Commission, Kris Kobach, has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas,” she wrote.

Alabama’s Republican Secretary of State John Merrill (no relation) also indicated he had questions for Kobach regarding how much of the data would be made public and how Alabamans’ privacy would be protected, even while he expressed support for the commission. “Kobach is a close friend, and I have full confidence in him and his ability, but before we turn over data of this magnitude to anybody we’re going to make sure our questions are answered,” he said.

Colorado Secretary of State Republican Wayne Williams, for his part, said he was not concerned with what the commission planned to do with the data. “Just like when we get a [public-records] request, we don’t demand to know what they are going to do with the data,” he said. “There are important reasons why the voter roll is publicly available information.”

The extent to which voter roll data is public varies across the country. While some states, like North Carolina, make their voter rolls available for free download, other states charge high fees. Alabama, for example, charges one cent per voter in the roll for a total cost of more than $30,000. The state law provides a waiver for government entities, so Merrill said the commission would receive the data for free. Other states, like Virginia, do not make this information public beyond sharing it with formal campaigns and political candidates. When ProPublica tried to purchase Illinois’ voter roll, our request was denied because they only release it to government entities for privacy reasons. Illinois did not respond to a request regarding whether they would release this information to the PCEI, which — while a government entity — intends to make the information public.

The letter from the commission also asks quite broad questions of state elections officials.

“What changes, if any, to federal election laws would you recommend to enhance the integrity of federal elections?” asks the first question. The letter also asked for all information and convictions related to any instance of voter fraud or registration fraud, and it solicited recommendations “for preventing voter intimidation or disenfranchisement.”

“The equivalent is, ‘Hey, doctors, what changes would you suggest regarding healthcare? Let us know in two weeks,'” said Levitt, the Loyola professor. “If I were a state election official, I wouldn’t know what to do with this.”

While the commission is being chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, Kobach signed the letter alone. Jon Greenbaum, chief counsel for the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said this is an indication that Kobach — not Pence — “will be running the show,” which he said should be a point of concern.

“As we know with Kobach, he’s obsessed with trying to identify voter fraud and finds it in a lot of places where it doesn’t exist,” he said.

Vanita Gupta, the former acting head of the Department of Justice’s civil rights division under President Barack Obama, said the commission’s letter was an indication the commission was “laying the groundwork” to carry out changes to the National Voter Registration Act that might seek to restrict access to the polls.

The National Voter Registration Act — sometimes called the Motor Voter Act — was enacted in 1993. It allows the DOJ the authority to ensure states to keep voter registration lists, or voter rolls, accurate and up-to-date. It also requires states to offer opportunities for voter registration at all offices that provide public assistance (like the DMV). 

In November, Kobach was photographed holding a paper addressing national security issues and proposing changes to the voter registration law. It is not clear what these changes were. The ACLU is involved in a lawsuit against Kansas’ state law requiring people to show proof of citizenship in order to register to vote. As part of the suit, ACLU lawyers requested access to the document reflecting the changes Kobach proposed.

Originally Kobach told the court the document was beyond the scope of the lawsuit, but last week the court found the documents were relevant and that Kobach had intentionally misled the court. He was fined $1,000 for the offense and required him to turn the document over. It has not yet been made public.

Gupta said her concern about the future of the voter registration act was deepened by the fact that, on Thursday, the DOJ sent a letter to the 44 states covered by the act requesting information on the maintenance of their voter rolls. States were given 30 days to answer a set of detailed questions about their policies for list maintenance.

“The timing of the letters being issued on the same day is curious at the very least,” she said.

The White House and the DOJ all did not respond to requests for comment about the letters.

The letter did not ask about compliance with the portions of the act that require states to attempt to expand the voter base, such as by offering voter registration forms and information in public offices.

Danielle Lang, deputy director of voting rights for The Campaign Legal Center, said the focus on list maintenance troubled her. While she said this might point to a new direction in enforcement for the DOJ’s voting rights section, it was too early to tell how this information might be used.

Levitt said he did not recall a time when the DOJ has previously requested such broad information. While the information is public and not, on its face, troubling, Levitt said the only time he recalled requesting similar information was during targeted investigations when federal officials suspected a state was not complying with the law.

–Jessica Huseman, ProPublica

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30 Responses for “Your Papers Please: Trump Commission Demands Massive Amounts of Voter Data”

  1. Fredrick says:

    How else will it be determined the amount of interference by the Russians. Either you want to find out or you don’t. If you have a problem with this stop the whining and complaining about Russian interference. You liberals brought this on yourselves. You can’t have it both ways.

  2. John F Pollinger says:

    If you are not concerned about this, you should be.

  3. Watching Closely says:

    Contact these numbers and tell them to NOT share our voter data in Florida!

    850-488-7146

    850-245-6500

  4. Martin Luther says:

    Considering the various unethical practices employed by the (formerly) democrat party to ensure the choice of the party was, what a coincidence, the exact choice of the party chairman, I celebrate increased scrutiny on the elective process.

  5. DWFerg says:

    Why is it that one can be registered to vote in more than one state / county simultaneously ?—In order to file a new registration, one should / must reveal former status for it to be removed. Also, after one passes, there should be automatic removal of their voting registration/driver license information contingent on/ with issuance of death certificate.If getting a library card is tied to voter registration, what is the issue with data base rationalization ? Public information should be available (within reason, i.e. cost) to Public.

  6. Remember when says:

    This is by far the Democrats WORST nightmare. It is about time a crackdown on fraud in the election system finally is exposed. Maybe it will put an end to states where “machine” political organizations control the ballots and will end:

    1. Voter registration in cemeteries
    2. Voter registration of farm animals
    3. Union intimidation of its members to vote for a particular candidate
    4. Multiple votes of “illegal” immigrants using different names
    5. Voter intimidation in large urban areas like Chicago, New York and Detroit by machine political groups
    6. Convicted felons from voting
    7. Disappearing and reappearing ballots
    8. Etc

    You know it’s funny, with all the mentioned above Hillary Clinton twice couldn’t pull it off. What does that tell you?

  7. Brad W says:

    I doesn’t matter if you are Republican, Democrat, or Independent this information request should be extremely concerning.

    1. One of the main reasons that the Russian interference was not successful on some fronts, such as effecting voter roles, is that the information is not consolidated all in one spot. And now we have the very group being investigated for their participation in that interference wanting to consolidate such information?

    2. Consolidating detailed voter information including personal information on each voter is making American voters and our electoral process less safe. This is the type of data campaigns long for. If you were to put this all in one spot with today’s computing power and programming talents, influencing the outcome of elections becomes far far easier . . . for whoever has it. Data breaches happen all the time, so keeping this data separate by state is far more secure than ever consolidating.

    3. No other time in my lifetime do I remember a President asking for such detailed personal information on citizens for the sake of creating one large database. That in of itself should be suspect for every American. A true investigation into voter fraud can be done state by state and locality by locality with the results filtered up to this group to consolidate the findings and make their determination.

    Florida should not participate and if it cowers Flagler County should stand it’s ground and not comply.

  8. Sherry says:

    @watching closely. . . I just used the number you published to call Rick Scott’s office. Although I identified myself and stated that I live in Flagler Beach, the woman I talked to did not seem interested or to take that information down. I told her I did not want my voter data released and she seemed not to care about that either. I asked whether there was any kind of count on this subject and she said yes. . . it is in the system.

    I did NOT get the impression that the governor cares one bit about what we think. My suggestion is that calling and requesting to leave a message for him. . . or at least an assistant . . . would leave a more impactful impression.

  9. Pogo says:

    @Sherry

    You know tricky ricky is just trump lite with a girl’s voice. trump and the Mercer mob are validating their mailing list.

    The Martians will find the data useful for locating all the ammosexuals and their guns in a hurry. They might even stumble across trump’s tax returns.

  10. #Bernie2020 says:

    Rosa Maria Ortega, 37, a permanent resident and a mother of four who lives outside Dallas. This Feb 2017 a Fort Worth judge sentenced her to eight years in prison — and almost certainly deportation later — after she voted illegally in elections in 2012 and 2014.

    Far-right websites have seized on Ms. Ortega’s conviction as proof that Mr. Trump is right about rampant fraud and efforts by Democrats to steal the November election.

    There is, however, at least one flaw in that story: Ms. Ortega was a registered Republican.

    “She voted for Mitt Romney over Barack Obama in the 2012 election. In 2014 she voted for our current attorney general, Ken Paxton,” Mr. Birdsall said. “And guess what? He’s the one responsible for prosecuting her.”

    So if this “investigation” finds that there was massive fraud that gave Trump Florida or Ohio , what will the President, Congress and the Senate do with this information?

    I mean Texas should deduct at least two votes for Romney and Trump for this.

  11. Sherry says:

    Here is the data about YOU that has been requested by the trump administration. . . to be put in a centralized national database to be made AVAILABLE TO THE PUBLIC. If you do NOT want your “private” information (including your social security number) massively exposed to the PUBLIC, world wide and vulnerable to “identity theft” CALL Rick Scott’s office today! 850 488 7146 or 850 245 6400

    This is “copied and pasted directly from Kobach’s letter to each state:

    ” I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly available
    voter roll data for (state name), 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, cancelled
    status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in
    another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.

    You may submit your responses electronically to ElectionIntegrityStaff@ovp.eop.gov or by
    utilizing the Safe Access File Exchange (“SAFE”), which is a secure FTP site the federal
    government uses for transferring large data files. You can access the SAFE site at
    https://safe.amrdec.army.mil/safe/Welcome.aspx. We would appreciate a response by July 14,
    2017.

    Please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be
    made available to the public.”

    THINK THIS THROUGH. . . even if much of this “voter data” is currently available to the public. . . “under certain conditions” . . . it is NOT CURRENTLY in a nationwide “centralized” database. . . and available worldwide to anyone who wants to use your “personal” information. Talk about “election” hacking. . . this would fling the door wide open and make it much easier to hack into ONE database than 50!

    Call Rick Scott today!

  12. a tiny manatee says:

    If you are ok with this, you are too dumb to live.

  13. Watching Closely says:

    Sherry and others…I also called the Gov’s office…but left a voicemail. Make sure if you call and leave a voice mail, you state you are a Florida resident and what county you are in.

    I think called Tallahassee, who said they didn’t know if Gov Scott was going to comply with this or not. It was “being discussed’ They recommended calling our local Supv of Elections at 386-313-4170. I did and registered my concerns there. They are NOT happy with this whole thing and are keeping a list to show our county’s displeasure …she said she will be calling in a little while to register this.

    She also gave me another number to call :our Florida Sec of State, to register our displeasure with this. 850-245-6524

    To those trolls who are posting their usual BS even on THIS issue which should concern EVERYONE??? There is no fix for stupid.

  14. Knightwatch says:

    O.k., conservatives. You have always complained whenever “the government” asked for personal data, like registering your guns. Well, this is an outrageous invasion of privacy by the Trump administration. So, let’s hear the howls of outrage. Waiting…

  15. Knightwatch says:

    One more thing… Hey Trump, you ignorant, lying, cheating, sexual abusing, racist buffoon… show me your tax returns and I’ll give you my personal information INCLUDING MY TAX RETURN! Fracking idiot.

  16. JasonB says:

    Remember when says: “You know it’s funny, with all the mentioned above Hillary Clinton twice couldn’t pull it off. What does that tell you?

    What it tells me is that all the mentioned above does not exist……

  17. Mark101 says:

    44 States told trump to stuff it citing privacy concerns. Florida and Nebraska are reportedly still reviewing the request as of Tuesday afternoon, while Hawaii (which just woke up) and New Jersey haven’t responded to CNN’s request for comment. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, has written letter in opposition to the commission’s request..

    ” according to CNN. Colorado, Missouri, and Tennessee, meanwhile, have respectively “commended” Kobach’s work in statements.

    Interesting comments from the states in the article linked below
    http://www.cnn.com/2017/07/03/politics/kris-kobach-letter-voter-fraud-commission-information/index.html

  18. Instigator says:

    Cracked me up reading the comments. All this information is readily available except for the last four of your SS number. Voter ID is exactly what we need to keep the elections from being over run by the left wing EVERYONE VOTES mantra. No, not everyone votes. If you are a legal resident of the USA it is your DUTY to vote as long as you vote ONCE and you are not dead for the last 20 years voting 2-3 times a year.

    The party is over. Drain the swamp.

  19. Had enough? says:

    Knightwatch, you made my day!

  20. Watching Closely says:

    Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity – HIS OWN STATE SAYS NO!!!!

    WHAT DOES THAT TELL YOU?????

  21. Sherry says:

    @Instigator. . . having our “personal” information pulled together into ONE National database is vastly different that saying “it’s all public in public records. Have you really ever tried to get even a phone number or address of a long lost friend? These days. . . you have to jump through loops, prove why you need the data, or pay for each record.

    Having a National database with all such personal data located in ONE place puts us all at high risk of election hacking, criminal activity, identity theft etc. etc.

    If you cannot get through on the phone. . . send an email to: DivElections@dos.myflorida.com

  22. Kaiti Lenhart says:

    I have received several emails and phone calls today from voters who have expressed their concerns regarding the recent request for voter information from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

    The request for voter information was made by letter to each of the 50 states, and was received by Florida Secretary of State, Ken Detzner. The request for information was not made of Flagler County, but of the State of Florida. According to the latest news, Florida has not yet responded to the inquiry. I cannot understand or explain the delay, but I would not be surprised if Florida responded with the information which is already a public record and available to any person. Public records laws in Florida are determined by the Florida Legislature. This public information includes: voter name, addresses, date of birth, political affiliation and voting history. You vote by secret ballot, so the public voter history information is not “how” you voted, but instead, the elections in which you participate. Social security numbers are never public record and they are not shared to anyone who requests public records by your local Elections Office.

    I also do not believe any information provided by any state to this Commission will be used to create a national voter registration database and certainly would not recommend this for security, legal and practical reasons. One strength of our elections process is the fact that it is decentralized. Elections in Florida are independently conducted in each county by competent, transparent, elected Supervisors of Elections who are working for you every day to maintain the integrity of the voter rolls and security of the process.

    I have personally responded to each of you who expressed your concerns by email this morning. It is disheartening to have received one request from a voter who asked to cancel their voter registration. If you have considered this, I would ask that you remember your vote is your voice in government. Your vote is your tool for change and it is counted in every election. We just celebrated together yesterday on Independence Day, the founding of this great nation, in honor of all who fought and died for our freedom. An active, informed electorate builds a strong community. Stay registered AND vote in every election!

    I have shared the concerns of voters who have contacted me by email to the Secretary of State and Division of Elections Director. If you would like to contact the Secretary’s office directly, please call (850) 245-6524 or visit the website: http://dos.myflorida.com/about-the-department/office-of-the-secretary/

    If you have further questions, I may be reached at (386) 313-4170.

    Kaiti Lenhart, Flagler County Supervisor of Elections

  23. Katie Semore says:

    @knightwatch, you are smarter than any dozen Trumpeets gathered in one place. The stupidity displayed by some who have left comments is frightening. I am surprised when the subject and verb agrees.

  24. Becky says:

    Were you so concerned when all of your personal financial and health info (from birth to grave) was loaded into the giant Obamacare Cloud, sitting there ripe for hackers and intrusion by unscrupulous Govt employees?

  25. tulip says:

    Voter records are public. Candidates go to the SOE and purchase lists. Also, if you google your name and address the chances are very very high that your name, age, date of birth and party will come up. So anyone can find these things. In fact sometimes you only have to type in your name.

    We have a very scary situation with North Korea, because they are now capable of shooting off a nuclear missile that could reach Alaska. However, who is speaking to what Russian, who won the popular vote, tweets that are ridiculous and the childish dems making life tough seem to be far more important than dealing with a maniacal killer in No Korea. No feeling of safety here.

  26. Pogo says:

    @tulip

    No need to fret. Trump is attending a performance review with his boss. He’s going a little heavy on the brown-nosing, but he knows what he likes himself and knows how to give it back:

    Trump, on eve of Putin meeting, says ‘nobody really knows’ about Russian hacking
    https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/politics/2017/07/06/trump-eve-putin-meeting-says-nobody-really-knows-russian-hacking/454436001/

  27. Mark101 says:

    Don’t worry Magic Rick Scott will take care of us, …………….right after he takes care of himself. If shady Scott allows our data to be turned in, he can kiss his chances for some Senate seat good by,. I don’t think his beloved followers will approve of that,

  28. Mark101 says:

    Tricky Ricky told a reporter today, that he will comply BUT, will not provide Driver License or social security numbers.

  29. Anonymous says:

    The confusion here is vot registration versus vote counting….trump is trying to blur the lines between the two. Just because you are registered in more than one state does not mean that you can vote more than one time. He is using this scam as a way to say that see everybody registered in more than one state is vote if more than once and this is simply not the case. So far in all of the investigations the only 2 case located were classified as republican voters. So once again the spin that the demo rates are behind this is a fallacy and a mere propaganda smoke screen. This has nothing to to do with the accusations of Russian meddling in pre-election voter opinion, which was the whole purpose behind swaying public option on what candidate to vote for not that votes were faked by the Russian. Do not confuse the 2 different issue here. The first is an absolute privacy violation by the federal Goverment to gain insight into voter populace, while the second is an attempt by forgein States to alter the outcome of a federal election as testified to by multiple intel agencies. You should all be aware of the fact that everyone was in an uproar about what Edward Snowden release about data mining and now it is being done in a very open and direct way to build a database of voter profiles in this country. If you have any repspect for you privacy you will speak up and tell our elected offical not to release our data Republican, democrat or other……this is an attack on privacy and is profiling. Period.

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