Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R) sent a follow-up letter on Wednesday to election officials in all 50 states requesting publicly available voter information and addressed backlash from an earlier request that many said would jeopardize voter privacy.
Kobach, vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, sent the letter after a federal judge in Washington ruled in the commission’s favor in a privacy lawsuit on Monday (the decision is being appealed). The commission had asked election officials to hold off on submitting voter data while the lawsuit was pending before the judge.
As part of an effort to identify voter fraud, Kobach sent a letter on June 28 to election officials requesting “publicly available” voter information, including, if possible, sensitive information such as the last four digits of Social Security numbers. Officials in some states refused to provide the data, saying they would not help the commission stoke fears of voter fraud. Many states said they would provide the information that was already publicly available.
In his second letter, Kobach said he would not release any “personally identifiable information” and the commission would delete voter information, as permitted by federal law, once its work concluded.
“Individuals’ voter registration records will be kept confidential and secure throughout the duration of the commission’s existence,” Kobach wrote in the Wednesday letter. “The only information that will be made public are statistical conclusions drawn from the data, other general observations that may be drawn from the data, and any correspondence that you may send to the commission’ responding to questions in the June 28 letter.
Critics have denounced the panel, which met for the first time last week, as an effort to support President Donald Trump’s unsubstantiated claims that between 3 million to 5 million people voted illegally in the 2016 election. Kobach and other commissioners have said voter fraud is a problem and pushed for more restrictive voting policies, something critics say signals that the panel will not undertake a neutral study of U.S. elections.
Experts have also said the commission’s plan to compare voter information against federal databases is likely to an exaggerated picture of fraud at the polls because mix-ups will occur involving registered voters who have the same names as non-citizens. Also, given limited information, the commission is likely to identify many voters who appear to have duplicate registrations, but are actually different people with the same names.
Kobach’s new letter didn’t change the mind of California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (D), one of the officials who has refused to turn over voter information.
“The commission’s new request does nothing to address the fundamental problems with the commission’s illegitimate origins, questionable mission or the preconceived and harmful views on voting rights that many of its commissioners have advanced,” he said in a statement.
Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes (D) also reiterated her previous refusal to send the voter information to the commission.
Kobach has been inconsistent in what he has told state officials about how the commission will secure the data it wants and what would be released to the public. In the June 28 letter, Kobach said all documents provided to the panel would be released. But in a later court filing, he said he only intended that to apply to responses to questions he posed to officials about improving elections and not voting information.
Kobach also initially indicated voter information would be transferred via email or through a Department of Defense server, but in the privacy lawsuit changed course and said everything would be handled on a White House server.
Jason Kander, the former Missouri secretary of state leading an effort by the Democratic National Committee to push back on Trump’s panel, encouraged officials to refuse to submit voter data.
Kobach “once believed that the federal government had no part in the administration of elections, but now that he has been given the power to decide who can and can’t vote, he is relentlessly pursuing his agenda through the office of the president,” Kander said in a statement. “Secretaries of state who are standing up” to Trump and Kobach “by not handing over this data are doing the right thing, and I’m proud to stand with them.”
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, in her ruling on the privacy lawsuit, said that while the commission had not broken laws in its request, states had no obligation to turn over the requested information.
“Defendants’ request for information is just that ― a request ― and there is no evidence that they have sought to turn the request into a demand, or to enforce the request by any means,” she wrote.
Read the full Kobach letter below: