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Democratic election chiefs want no part in the Trump administration’s effort to claim voter fraud

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They are refusing to supply Trump’s commission with massive amounts of voter data.

Signs direct voters outside of the Santa Clara County Registrar of Voters on Monday, Oct. 24, 2016, in San Jose, Calif. CREDIT: AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

At least four Democratic elections chiefs have said they will not comply with a request from President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity for a massive amount of personal information for all voters on their rolls, saying they’re concerned the White House will use the data substantiate the Trump’s false statements about voter fraud.

In a letter Thursday, commission vice chair and notorious voter suppression architect Kris Kobach demanded that all 50 states send him the names, addresses, social security numbers, birth dates, voting history, and other personal information for all registered voters.

Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill was the first to sound the alarm, though she stopped short of saying she won’t comply altogether.

Merrill expressed grave concerns with the commission, which she said is a distraction from the real issues of voter suppression and Russian interference in the 2016 election. She said she will comply to the extent the requested information is publicly available and doesn’t infringe on protections her state affords certain voters, like police officers and victims of domestic violence whose information is kept private, and added that she will be consulting with her legal counsel about her state’s participation.

“We can’t literally suppress the data… so this becomes a real problem and I don’t know how we’re going to handle it,” she told ThinkProgress.

Trump’s voter fraud commission is ‘laying the groundwork for voter suppression’

Merrill suspects that Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, will use databases to crosscheck all of the voter rolls to check for duplicates or alleged voter fraud, as he has done in his home state, to bolster his claims of voter fraud.

“Time and time again, studies have shown there’s very little voter fraud, but he just won’t take no for an answer,” she said. “That’s exactly where he’s going with this information.”

Merrill said she wouldn’t be surprised if Kobach is able to find millions of people registered to vote in two different states, but “that’s not illegal.”

“I think the real threat is to people’s right to vote,” she said. “The danger is that they’ll start kicking people off the lists or, more likely, proposing changes to the federal law requiring certain forms of ID.”

Secretaries of state in California, Kentucky, Massachusetts and Virginia all went a step further than Merrill, saying Thursday that they would not comply with Kobach’s demand whatsoever.

Kentucky’s Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) said she does “not intend to release Kentuckians’ sensitive personal data to the federal government,” calling the commission “at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”

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California’s Alex Padilla (D) similarly said that he “will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally.”

Padilla said that his participation would serve to legitimize Trump and his administration’s “false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud.”

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And Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), who helps administer elections in his state, said he has “no intention of honoring” Kobach’s request.

“Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia,” he said in a statement.

And Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin (D) provided a different reason for his refusal to supply the information.

“It’s not a public record,” Brian McNiff, a spokesman for Galvin, said about voter data. Under Massachusetts law, voter information “shall not be a public record.”

Federal law requires that all 50 states maintain a file of voter information, but not all states keep all of the personal data requested by the commission or make it publicly accessible. For example, Merrill said Connecticut does not keep social security numbers on file. And some states charge for access to the voter rolls.

“In Maine, you have to pay $10,000 to get the list,” Merrill said. “Now are they going to be paying for the list? I guess they’d have to. There are other states where you have to sign an affidavit before you get the list…They need to answer some questions before we’re going to release the data.”

After falsely claiming in January that 3 to 5 million people illegally voted in the 2016 election, costing him the popular vote, Trump officially announced the formation of the commission in May.

Trump’s lie about illegal votes will have dangerous consequences

In his executive order, Trump said the commission would be bipartisan and would look into both voter fraud and suppression. But major voting groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union, urged Democrats not to participate in a body they claim will turn into a witch hunt for fraud with the goal of passing more voter suppression laws.

Many of the Democrats appointed as commissioners are low-profile people, like a West Virginia county clerk and a former Arkansas state legislator who told ThinkProgress he wasn’t sure himself why he was chosen.

On Thursday, the White House announced the appointment of Hans von Spakovsky to the commission. In 2008, von Spakovsky issued a report on voter fraud citing decades-old evidence.

“This appointment is a big middle finger from the president to those who are serious about fixing problems with our elections,” election law expert Rick Hasen wrote on his blog.


Democratic election chiefs want no part in the Trump administration’s effort to claim voter fraud was originally published in ThinkProgress on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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