States refuse Trump panel request for voter information

Reuters News
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Posted: Jun 30, 2017 4:30 PM

By Chris Kenning

CHICAGO (Reuters) - A growing number of U.S. states Friday refused to provide voters' names, addresses and other personal information requested by a panel that President Donald Trump created to investigate voter fraud, saying the demand was unnecessary and violated privacy.

Republican Trump, who has made unsubstantiated claims that millions of people voted illegally for his Democratic rival Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, established the panel by executive order in May despite evidence that voter fraud is not widespread.

"This commission was formed to try to find basis for the lie that President Trump put forward that has no foundation," Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes told Reuters in an interview.

Elections officials in states including Connecticut, Minnesota and Oklahoma said they would only turn over public information, but not sensitive private information.

Trump's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter to all 50 states Wednesday, asking them to provide voter information including names, the last four digits of social security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, political affiliation, felony convictions and voting histories.

The request, made by commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach, caused a backlash in states including Virginia, Kentucky, California, New York and Massachusetts, where election officials said they could not or would not provide all the data.

Some states said certain data such as social security numbers were not publicly available. Others raised privacy concerns or questioned the need to examine voter fraud.

Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, has been a high-profile advocate of tougher laws on immigration and voter identification.

His office did not respond to requests for comment on Friday.

In his letter, a copy of which was provided to Reuters by the Connecticut Secretary of State's office, Kobach also asked states for feedback on how to improve election integrity and for evidence of voter fraud and convictions of voter-related crimes since 2000.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said on Thursday that handing over information would only serve to legitimize debunked claims of widespread voter fraud. Civil rights groups and Democratic Party lawmakers have called the commission a tactic to suppress votes against Republicans.

"States are right to balk at turning over massive reams of personal information in what clearly is a campaign to suppress the vote," Dale Ho, director of the ACLU's Voting Rights Project, said in a statement Friday.

While the public availability of voter data varies by state, the request raises privacy concerns, said Richard Hasen, a University of California, Irvine, professor who studies election law. He said studies have suggested in-person voter fraud is relatively rare.

Oklahoma recorded 17 allegations of double voting in the 2016 general election, during which 1.4 million ballots were cast, state election board spokesman Bryan Dean said.

(Reporting by Chris Kenning; editing by Ben Klayman and Grant McCool)