Top Republican says House investigation into voter suppression exceeds authority

The top Republican on a House committee investigating voter suppression told election officials in Kansas, Georgia and Texas that the committee has exceeded its authority with information requests sent to those states.

Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, the top Republican on the House Oversight Committee, sent letters Monday to election officials in the three states that described the Democratic-led investigation as partisan and beyond the bounds of Congress’ oversight power.

Jordan’s letter comes after Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Maryland, the House Oversight chair, sent records requests to election officials in the three states last month. The committee plans to look at least four or five states, and could subpoena witnesses in its probe of possible voter suppression.

Cummings has previously told McClatchy the probe is focused on states considered to have “the most egregious situations.”

Texas officials balked at Cummings’ request, but the Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab’s office said Monday that it has already responded.

“We have fulfilled the committee’s request,” said Katie Koupal, spokeswoman for Schwab. “We’ve provided the applicable information. They requested the communications and we provided them with what we had on record.”

In Kansas, Cummings sought communications between former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office and Ford County Clerk Debbie Cox about the 2018 decision to move Dodge City’s only polling site outside the limits of the majority Latino city.

(OCTOBER 25, 2018) -- Wichita Eagle reporter Jonathan Shorman shows where Dodge City voters will head on Election Day, and how far it is from town.

Jordan’s letter states that Republicans on the committee were not consulted before the request.

“As articulated by the chairman, their inquiry does not appear to have a valid legislative purpose and instead seeks confidential communications among state officials, including state law enforcement officials, regarding the enforcement of state law,” the letter from Jordan and three other Republicans on the committee states.

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Maryland, had a pointed response. Raskin chairs the House civil rights and civil liberties subcommittee.

“It would be best if our GOP colleagues joined us in protecting voting rights, but at the very least they should stop trying to prevent us from doing our constitutional mandated work,” he said in a statement..

Schwab’s office said last month that it was in the process of responding to the committee’s requests, which deal with communications between Ford County and Schwab’s predecessor, Kobach, who ran unsuccessfully for governor.

Both Kobach and Schwab are Republicans, but Schwab has notably distanced himself from some of Kobach’s policies since taking office. He has supported repealing a law, championed by Kobach, which gave the Kansas secretary of state the power to prosecute election crimes.

Cummings and Raskin also sent Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger a detailed request for data regarding the state’s 2018 election.

Kemp, who won the governorship in that election, oversaw voting as secretary of state. He ran against Stacey Abrams, a Democrat vying to become the nation’s first African American woman elected governor. Kemp won with 50.2 percent of the vote.

Under Kemp, the secretary of state’s office placed on hold registration applications for 53,000 Georgia residents, mostly minorities, a few weeks before the election. Kemp denied Democrats’ assertions that this was voter suppression.

Brian Kemp, Republican gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, campaigns Wednesday morning in Columbus, Georgia at the Stars and Strikes Family Entertainment Center. Kemp spoke to the crowd of about 150 people and also answered questions from the media.

Cummings, Raskin and other Democrats want to know more. They have asked Georgia officials to provide “all communications related to any voter roll purges,” as well as “all documents related to your ethical or legal obligations or possible conflicts of interest while simultaneously running for governor and overseeing the state’s elections as Georgia’s secretary of state.”

Jordan’s letters to the Georgia officials are nearly identical to the ones he sent to the officials in Kansas and Texas.

The Democrats sought documents from Texas officials detailing reported efforts to toss possible non-citizens off voter rolls.

Cummings and Raskin wrote on March 28 that they were “disturbed” by accounts that Texas officials have “taken steps to remove thousands of eligible American voters” from state rolls. And, they said, many have been referred for criminal prosecution “for exercising their right to vote.”

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office responded last week that the oversight committee “lacks any oversight jurisdiction over constitutional officers in the State of Texas.”

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He’s been writing, editing and teaching for 47 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, Calif., Annapolis, Baltimore and since 1981, Washington.
Bryan Lowry covers Kansas and Missouri politics as Washington correspondent for The Kansas City Star. He previously served as Kansas statehouse correspondent for The Wichita Eagle and as The Star’s lead political reporter. Lowry contributed to The Star’s investigation into government secrecy that was a finalist for The Pulitzer Prize.
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