By Liz Stark and Grace Hauck Mon July 3, 2017
Washington Forty-one states have defied the Trump administration’s request for private voter information, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states.
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State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation — from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which Trump created by executive order in May, sent a letter to all 50 states last Wednesday requesting a bevy of voter data, which he notes will eventually be made available to the public.
That information sought included registrants’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, the last four digits of their social security numbers, a list of the elections they voted in since 2006, information on any felony convictions, information on whether they were registered to vote in other states, their military status, and whether they lived overseas.
The vice chairman’s letter twice requests only “public” voter information, and Kobach clarified the specifics of his request Friday: “Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available,” he told The Kansas City Star.
But the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to misunderstand voter privacy laws nationwide. Every state that responded said it could not provide Social Security numbers, for example. Others said they consider information such as birth dates and party affiliations to be private.
What’s more, Kobach asked states to supply the information through an online portal. Many states have rejected this specific request, noting that the commission should file a voter information request through established state websites, as any other party would.
As of Monday afternoon, three states — Florida, Idaho and Nebraska — are still reviewing the commission’s request. Another three states — Hawaii, New Jersey and Wyoming — have not returned CNN’s request for comment. And while seven states are still awaiting a letter from the commission, four of them — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — have already pledged not to provide voters’ private information.
Just three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — commended Kobach’s attempt to investigate voter fraud in their respective statements.
“We are very glad they are asking for information before making decisions,” said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican. “I wish more federal agencies would ask folks for their opinion and for information before they made decisions.”
Missouri Secretary of State John Ashcroft, also a Republican, echoed Williams’ sentiment in a statement Friday: “The commission’s questions are fair and we will be glad to assist in offering our thoughts on these important matters,” he said. “I look forward to working with Sec. Kris Kobach and the commission on its findings and offer our support in the collective effort to enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the elections process.”
Other states were more critical. Eighteen openly criticized the commission’s request.
“The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a Republican, on Monday afternoon. “My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”
Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, also a Republican, took the criticism a step further.
“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Hosemann said in a statement Friday. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
Three state leaders also raised doubts about the integrity of the commission itself, and many questioned the existence of widespread voter fraud.
“This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said Thursday. “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.”
“Given Sec. Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission,” Connecticut Sec. of State Denise Merrill, also a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday, pointing to what she alleged was Kobach’s “lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas.”
As Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach backed a national cross-referencing system to allow states to check their voter rolls for overlaps, which drew criticisms that the system was too prone to allowing legitimate voters to be purged from voting systems. Kobach also fought unsuccessfully in court for the ability to require verification of citizenship on voter registration forms.
In a tweet Saturday morning, President Donald Trump called out states that were expressing concerns about the legality of his administration’s efforts to investigate voter fraud. “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” Trump wrote.
State of Play: Where do the states stand?
Alabama: “This office will not share any information not already available to the public. …” Secretary of State John Merrill said in a statement Friday. “The Secretary of State’s Office will comply with the request if we are convinced that the overall effort will produce the necessary results to accomplish the Commission’s stated goal without compromising the integrity of the voter rolls and the elections process in Alabama,”
Alaska: The Division of Elections will release only public information, according to a press release from Lt. Gov. Byron Mallott Friday. “State law allows only some information to be public. Public information does not include: last four numbers of SSN, date of birth, or residence address,” among other data.
Arizona: “We will only make available the same redacted information that is available to the general public through a public records request,” Secretary of State Michele Reagan said in a statement Friday. “Social security numbers, Date of Birth and identifying information such as Mother’s maiden name will not be transmitted. Arizona’s voters can expect to have their personal information remain private and safe.”
Arkansas: “We have not yet received a letter. When we do, we will review it,” Assistant Director of Communications and Education Chris Powell told CNN Monday, adding, “We’re keeping an eye out for it.”
California: “I will not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally. …” Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement Thursday. “California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach. The President’s Commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections.”
Colorado: “We are very glad they are asking for information before making decisions. I wish more federal agencies would ask folks for their opinion and for information before they made decisions,” Secretary of State Wayne Williams said in a press release Thursday, which noted that his office will release voter-roll information that is public under state law but withhold data that is confidential.
Connecticut: “Given Secretary Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission,” Secretary of State Denise Merrill said in a statement Thursday.
Delaware: “Releasing this information to the White House would not serve the mission of safeguarding the fairness and integrity of elections in Delaware and would not be in the best interests of Delaware voters,” said State Election Commissioner Elaine Manlove said in a statement Monday. Sec. of State Jeffrey Bullock echoed the sentiment in the same statement: “Delaware will not be a party to this disingenuous and inappropriate campaign against one of the nation’s foundational institutions.”
Florida: “We have received the letter. We are reviewing it,” Director of Communications Sarah Revell told CNN Monday. The Florida Senate, meanwhile, has written letter in opposition to the commission’s request.
Georgia: “The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office will provide the publicly available voter list,” Press Secretary Candice L. Broce told CNN Friday. “As specified in Georgia law, the public list does not contain a registered voter’s driver’s license number, social security number, month and day of birth, site of voter registration, phone number, or email address.”
Hawaii: No response to CNN.
Idaho: State Election Director Betsie Kimbrough said the office will provide what is legally allowed under state law if Secretary of State Lawerence Denney determines the request complies with Idaho public records rules, The Virginian-Pilot and Idaho State Journal reported Friday. “Information about driver’s license numbers, the last four digits of Social Security numbers and date of births are not released even though that data is collected on registration forms,” the Virginian-Pilot article said. “Kimbrough said the commission’s request will be treated like any other records request from the public, adding that Idaho’s voter roll is routinely provided to political campaigns, the press and other groups that ask for it.”
Illinois: The Illinois State Board of Elections has not yet received the letter, a spokesperson told CNN Monday.
Indiana: “Indiana law doesn’t permit the Secretary of State to provide the personal information requested by Secretary Kobach,” Secretary of State Connie Lawson tweeted Friday. “Under Indiana public records laws, certain voter info is available to the public, the media and any other person who requested the information for non-commercial purposes. The information publicly available is name, address and congressional district assignment.
Iowa: “We will follow that process if a request is made that complies with Iowa law. …” Secretary of State Paul Pate tweeted Friday. “However, providing personal voter information, such as Social Security numbers, is forbidden under Iowa Code.”
Kansas: “Only “publicly available” information will be shared with the Commission,” Secretary Kobach’s spokeswoman Samantha Poetter told CNN Friday. “Any person in Kansas can obtain it. It is the basic information — name, address, etc. — not the sensitive information like last four SSN. That information is not publicly available, and therefore it is not part of the request.”
Kentucky: “As the Commonwealth’s Secretary of State and chief election official, I do not intend to release Kentuckians’ sensitive personal data to the federal government. …” Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes said in a statement Friday. “The president created his election commission based on the false notion that “voter fraud” is a widespread issue — it is not. Indeed, despite bipartisan objections and a lack of authority, the President has repeatedly spread the lie that three to five million illegal votes were cast in the last election. 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.”
Louisiana: “The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” Secretary of State Tom Schedler said in a statement Monday. “My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”
Maine: “Maine citizens can be confident that our office will not release any data that is protected under Maine law, to the commission or any other requesting entity,” Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap said in a press release Friday. The statement noted that Maine law allows the release of the voter’s name, year of birth, residence address, mailing address, voter status, voter record number and any special designations indicating uniformed service voters, overseas voters or township voters, but not Social Security number.
Maryland: “The assistant attorneys general representing SBE have considered the request and have determined the disclosure is prohibited by law,” Attorney General Brian Frosh said in a tweet Monday, adding in a second tweet, “I find this request repugnant; appears designed only 2 intimidate voters and 2 indulge the President’s fantasy that he won the popular vote.”
Massachusetts: The state’s voter registry is not a public record and information in it will not be shared with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, Communications Director Brian S. McNiff told CNN Friday.
Michigan: “As in most other states, Michigan law does provide for disclosure of some basic public voter information,” Secretary Ruth Johnson’s office said in a Facebook post Monday. “Political parties, candidates and news organizations routinely request and receive this data. State law for decades has allowed anyone to review voter lists to ensure election integrity. … Michigan will certainly not go beyond what is legally required in any response to this data request, and we are highly sensitive to people’s desires to keep what is private as private.”
Minnesota: “I will not hand over Minnesota voters’ sensitive personal information to the commission,” Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a statement Friday. “As I’ve said before, I have serious doubts about the commission’s credibility and trustworthiness. Its two co-chairs have publicly backed President Trump’s false and irresponsible claim that millions of ineligible votes were cast in the last election. They, along with other recent appointees, appear to have a strong interest in steering the commission toward their predetermined conclusions and outcomes. I fear that the commission risks becoming a partisan tool to shut out millions of eligible American voters.”
Mississippi: “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great State to launch from,” Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said in a statement Friday. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
Missouri: “The commission’s letter asks for ‘publicly-available’ information, which we would share with any person or organization making an open records request,”Secretary of State John Ashcroft said in a statement Friday. “We will protect Missourians’ private information. The laws of each state are different, and in Missouri, some of the data requested by the commission is open to the public. We plan to comply by providing publicly-available information per state law. The commission’s questions are fair and we will be glad to assist in offering our thoughts on these important matters. I look forward to working with Sec. Kris Kobach and the commission on its findings and offer our support in the collective effort to enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the elections process.”
Montana: Secretary of State Corey Stapleton won’t release voters’ birthdays or Social Security numbers to the president’s commission on election integrity, director of elections and voter services Derek Oestreicher told the Independent Record Friday.
Nebraska: “The Secretary of State has not had a chance to review the request submitted,” a spokesperson told CNN Monday.
Nevada: “While this request has understandably raised concerns with privacy advocates, voter registration information in Nevada is generally available for public inspection under state law, including name, address, date of birth, and whether the voter participated in a prior election,” Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske said in a statement Friday. “Election officials in Nevada do, however, collect certain information that is not considered a public record under state law and is therefore not available for public inspection. This information includes: Social Security Number; Driver’s License Number; DMV Identification Card Number; and Email Address.”
New Hampshire: “There’s no information (here) someone can’t publicly get anyway,” Secretary of State Bill Gardner told the Concord Monitor Friday. “People have the right to purchase it, only what’s public by law.”
New Jersey: No response to CNN.
New Mexico: “My office has not yet received the letter from President Trump’s election commission requesting the personal information of New Mexico voters,” Democratic Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver said in a statement Friday. “That being said, I will never release the personally identifiable information of New Mexico voters protected by law, including their social security number and birthdate. Further, I will not release any other voter information like names, addresses or voting history unless and until I am convinced the information will not be used for nefarious or unlawful purposes, and only if I am provided a clear plan for how it will be secured.”
New York: “The electoral process is sacred and New York law has strong safeguards in place to prevent sharing of sensitive voter data and harassment against those who exercise their right to vote…New York refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election…We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked,” said Governor Andrew Cuomo in a statement Friday.
North Carolina: “Integrity of our elections is critical, and a recent State Board of Elections investigation already found there was no evidence of significant voter fraud in North Carolina,” Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement on Twitter Friday. “My staff has told the State Board of Elections that we should not participate in providing sensitive information beyond what is public record as it is unnecessary, and because I have concerns that it is an effort to justify the President’s false claims about voter fraud.”
North Dakota: In an email to CNN Friday, Deputy Secretary of State Jim Silrum said: “We will answer those questions on the survey that North Dakota law allows us to answer.”
Ohio: “After each of the last three federal elections, I instructed the bipartisan boards of elections to conduct a review of credible allegations of voter fraud and voter suppression” Secretary of State Jon Husted said in a statement Friday.
“The results of this review is already in the public domain and available to the Commission. Additionally, voter registration information is a public record and is available online. The Confidential information, such as the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number or their Ohio driver license number is not publicly available and will not be provided to the Commission. In responding to the Commission, we will have ideas on how the federal government can better support states in running elections. However, we will make it clear that we do not want any federal intervention in our state’s right and responsibility to conduct elections. Every Sec. of State in the country should welcome the opportunity to describe what they do to ensure the integrity of the elections in their respective states.”
Oklahoma: “Full or partial Social Security numbers are not publicly available under Oklahoma law,” said Bryan Dean, public information officer for the Oklahoma State Election Board, in an email to CNN Friday. “We will provide the Commission with the publicly-available information they requested, just as we would anyone who requested the information. We are required to provide public information upon request under the Oklahoma Open Records Act. We commonly get requests for our voter list. I would estimate I get at least two or three requests per day for it. We have instructions available on our website for requesting that data.”
Oregon: “Oregon policy prohibits disclosure of some of the information you requested, such as social security numbers and drivers’ license numbers …” Secretary of State Dennis Richardson said in a letter Friday. “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.”
Pennsylvania: “In addition, I have serious reservations about the true intentions of this effort in light of the false statements this administration has made regarding voting integrity, the historical suppression of voting rights, and the way that such data has been used in the past …” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a letter Friday. “That said, like any citizen, you are welcome to purchase the publicly available voter file from the Pennsylvania Department of State. It can be purchased at pavoterservices.pa.gov for $20.”
Rhode Island: “We are reviewing Secretary Kobach’s request for information” Secretary of State Nellie M. Gorbea said in a statement Friday. “I will safeguard the privacy of Rhode Island voters and respond only with data that is already publicly available. I will not release social security information or any information that was requested by Secretary Kobach regarding felony status, military status, or overseas citizen information.”
South Carolina: “By law, the SC Election Commission maintains the list of registered voters for all 46 counties (1/3) … They are required to make the list available to the public upon request and Social Security numbers are never disclosed (2/3) … Constitution ensures voters ballot choices will always be secret. Americans have died protecting this freedom (3/3),” Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted in a string of statements Monday. According to The Post and Courier, however, South Carolina officials had not received a letter from the commission as of Friday. A senior official confirmed to CNN Monday evening: “The SC Elections Commission is responsible for the data but the governor is supportive of making all public information available to the president’s advisory committee. All information that is readily available to the general public should be made available to the committee.”
South Dakota: Secretary of State Shantel Krebs’ spokesman, Jason Williams, said in an email to the Associated Press that Krebs “will not share voter information with the commission.”
Tennessee: “Although I appreciate the commission’s mission to address election-related issues, like voter fraud, Tennessee state law does not allow my office to release the voter information requested to the federal commission,” tweeted Secretary of State Tre Hargett.
Texas: According to the Associated Press on Friday, Texas election officials will provide public voter information to the election commission. While Secretary of State Rolando Pablos didn’t list what records would be sent to the commission, the Republican said in a statement he will protect private information.
Utah: “Ensuring the integrity of the election process is the highest priority of my office,” Lt. Gov. Spencer J. Cox said in a statement Friday. “There has been no evidence of mass voter fraud in Utah and we look forward to helping the federal government better understand the steps we have taken to ensure the security and validity of Utah’s elections. … While my office is required to provide public records to this Commission, as we would to any other person or entity, I assure the voters of Utah that we will only provide information that is otherwise available to the public.”
Vermont: “I wholeheartedly disagree with premise of this Commission: namely, that there is widespread voter fraud,” Secretary of State James C. Condos said in a statement Friday. “There is no evidence of the kind of massive fraud alleged by President Trump, Vice President Pence or Secretary of State Kobach. I believe these unproven claims are an effort to set the stage to weaken our democratic process through a systematic national effort of voter suppression and intimidation. … My focus is to protect Vermont citizens from bogus attacks on our democracy. I will not release any more information about Vermont voters than is available to any citizen requesting our voter file.”
Virginia: “I have no intention of honoring this request,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe said in a statement Thursday. “Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia. This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November. 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.”
Washington: “We are required by law to provide public records upon request,” Sec. of State Kim Wyman tweeted Thursday. “Other requests from fed elections commission will be considered thoughtfully. … Info that is NOT public record=your SS# (even last 4), DL #, phone #, email, language preference. We ensure this info remains private.”
West Virginia: “Number one, we’ve never received a letter,” Secretary of State Mac Warner’s communications director, Mike Queen, told the Charleston Gazette-Mail Friday. “Number two, we can’t see whether every state has received a letter, I don’t know what states were selected or anything like that, but we haven’t received it. Number three, we would never release Social Security numbers.”
Wisconsin: “Wisconsin statutes do not permit the state to release a voter’s date of birth, driver license number or Social Security number,” said Michael Haas, administrator of the Wisconsin Elections Commission, said in a statement Friday. “State statutes permit the WEC to share confidential information in limited circumstances with law enforcement agencies or agencies of other states. The Presidential Commission does not appear to qualify under either of these categories. The WEC does not have the discretion to deny a request for the public information in the voter registration database if the required fee is paid. By administrative rule, the price is $12,500 for the entire statewide voter file, and Wisconsin law does not contain any provision for waiving the fee for voter data.”
Wyoming: No response to CNN.
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