President Donald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach still want troves of information about about voters. Just not yet.
In a court filing Monday, Kobach said Trump’s voting commission has told states to hold off on sharing the data until after a judge’s ruling in a lawsuit. That presidential commission, which is conducting a national study of voter fraud, faces multiple lawsuits for alleged privacy and transparency violations.
Kobach, the commission’s vice chair and a candidate for Kansas governor, asked every state and the District of Columbia for data on every voter, including names, addresses and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. The request has inspired national controversy, prompting criticism from both Republican and Democratic election officials around the country.
The Electronic Privacy Information Center last week asked a federal court to grant a temporary restraining order against the commission. The Washington, D.C.,-based privacy organization has alleged that “voters’ personal data will not be secure” and charged that Kobach’s call for the voter records “violated the informational privacy rights of millions of Americans.”
The commission, chaired by Vice Mike Pence, was hit with three more federal lawsuits Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
Kobach said in a court filing Monday that the commission has sent states a follow-up notice asking them to hold off on submitting the voter records until after a federal judge rules on the temporary restraining order. The commission will also not download the voter data Arkansas has already submitted using the DOD Safe Access File Exchange, Kobach said in the filing. Arkansas is the only state so far to share voting records with the commission.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office confirmed that it had received an email Monday morning asking the office to hold off on sending the requested data. Pence’s office had no comments on the lawsuit other than referring to the email to states, which tells election officials the commission “will follow up with you with further instructions once the Judge issues her ruling.”
Fourteen states and the District of Columbia have refused the request in its entirety. Other states, including Kansas and Missouri, will provide data to the commission, but will withhold the partial Social Security numbers.
Maura Browning, Ashcroft’s spokeswoman, said that the office had received phone calls from Missouri voters complaining about the data request last week. She emphasized that the records, including voters’ names and addresses, is a publicly available record commonly requested by political campaigns and newspapers.
“The uproar is kind of hard to understand,” she said.
Local election offices have received phone calls in recent weeks from voters seeking to cancel their voter registrations as a way to avoid be included in the data collection out of privacy concerns.
“I know that we have been contacted by four people expressing themselves on this and I know at least one or two of them asked ‘please cancel me,’ ” said Ronnie Metsker, Johnson County election commissioner. “They wanted their name taken out of what might be forwarded to the commission.”
Jackson County has received inquiries but no voters have gone through with de-registering, according to Tammy Brown, the county’s Republican director of elections. Cass County has had one voter cancel her registration.
Renee Leon, a 66-year-old Belton resident, said she asked to de-register out of concerns that the commission will use the data to give credibility to Trump’s unsupported claim that millions of illegal votes cost him the election. Kobach has been cited as Trump’s source for that claim by senior Trump officials, including Kellyanne Conway.
“I would rather have this administration not touch anything of my voter history,” Leon said. “If my sacrifice is that I may not get to vote, I would be willing to pay that price.”
Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who heads the voting rights organization Let America Vote, said that he’s heard anecdotes of voters canceling their registrations nationwide and that it’s the wrong approach.
“The voters who are concerned about Trump requesting their personal data have every right to be, but de-registering is not a good solution,” Kander said. “President Trump is actively working to undermine faith in American democracy. De-registering makes it easier for him to achieve his goal.”
Kander distinguished the data request with requests he received as secretary of state, calling the scope “totally unprecedented.”
In Monday’s court filing, Kobach backed away from his earlier plan about how the data would be transferred. The Kansas Republican told the court last week that he intended for states to use a system called the Safe Access File Exchange to send voter roll info. This was “a tested and reliable method of secure file transfer,” Kobach told the court.
EPIC challenged Kobach on that decision and submitted to the judge an exhibit they said showed that the website was “not a secure website for the transfer of personal data.”
In the court filing Monday, Kobach said “the Commission has decided to use alternative means for transmitting the requested data.”
Without giving specific details, Kobach told the court that the director of “White House Information Technology is repurposing an existing system that regularly accepts personally identifiable information through a secure, encrypted computer application.”
Kobach told the court last week that the White House will be tasked with collecting and storing data for Trump’s commission.
The commission now faces a string of other lawsuits concerning transparency and privacy.
The American Civil Liberties Union alleges in a lawsuit filed Monday that the commission failed to provide timely public notice or allow public access to its first meeting, which was conducted by phone last month, and has failed to provide public access to reports, meeting minutes and other documents.
The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law filed a corresponding lawsuit to require the commission to produce the record before its July 19 meeting, which will be closed to the public. Public Citizen, a left-leaning advocacy group, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Army, alleging that the plan to collect and store the data on an Army server would violate the Privacy Act.
Neither the White House, nor Vice President Mike Pence’s office commented on the ACLU’s lawsuit when contacted Monday.
The ACLU also alleges in its complaint that Trump broke a federal rule that requires that advisory panels cannot be inappropriately influenced by the person who appoints them.
“The Commission was established for the purpose of providing a veneer of legitimacy to President Trump’s false claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election — once millions of supposedly illegal votes are subtracted from the count,” the complaint states.
“That purpose is evident in the composition of the Commission, which is stacked with individuals who have endorsed the President’s false statements about the popular vote, and the fact that no provisions whatsoever have been made to insulate the Commission’s advice and recommendations from inappropriate influence by the person who appointed the Commission’s members — i.e., President Trump himself,” the complaint continues.