WASHINGTON ― Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) defended his decision to seek personal information about voters, saying on Wednesday that he knew he was unlikely to get the last four digits of their Social Security numbers and was only trying to cast as wide a net as possible when he asked state election officials to turn over voter data.
On June 28, Kobach, the vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia seeking all “publicly available voter-roll data.” That included “if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
The request set off an immediate uproar among Democratic and Republican officials alike. Some states refused to comply, while others emphasized they would turn over only what was already public. State law blocked officials in several states from turning over some of that sensitive information. Kobach himself won’t turn over the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers because they aren’t publicly available in Kansas.
Kobach has called the backlash “idiotic.” Speaking to reporters on Wednesday he blamed the controversy in part on “poor” and “lazy” reporting that he said wrongly claimed that sensitive information would be turned over.
He said he didn’t know of any state that would make public the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number, but asked for those data in the letter just for organizational purposes. Kobach previously defended requesting Social Security information as a way to find dead voters on the rolls.
“The request letter said please provide what you provide to the public. Here are the data fields that might possibly be there,” he said on Wednesday. “Last four of Social is a data field that some states have. I’m not aware of any state that makes that publicly available, but the point was to list off potential data fields so when the database comes in, you have the data field organized.”
“I think any letter could’ve been clearer. I think the letter was quite clear. There was a parenthetical,” he added.
With the elections commission already facing a lawsuit over privacy protections for voter data, Kobach said he was not interested in creating a federal voter database and was looking into ways to delete all the voter information collected by the committee once its work is done. A court ruling against the commission would be a “big impediment,” he said.
More than 3,000 voters in Colorado have asked to be deregistered since the commission sought their data. Kobach has dismissed the spike in attempted deregistrations, which have also been reported in other states, saying it could be caused by people who shouldn’t have been on the rolls in the first place or people committing a “political stunt.”