Civic groups in two states have turned to the courts to block officials from releasing voter information to a probe convened by President Donald Trump to investigate alleged fraud at polls, arguing their state laws prevent the release of the data to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.
Lawsuits filed in New Hampshire and Indiana came after election officials said they would release public, non-sensitive information to the commission. But even releasing that kind of limited information, the lawsuits contend, is illegal.
Widespread backlash greeted Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice chairman, when he sent a request to all 50 states asking for voter information. The letter did not say how the information would be used, but advised election officials that any documents provided to the commission would be made public (Kobach, a Republican, has since said he won’t release sensitive voter data).
A handful of lawsuits already have been filed at the federal level, including one by the American Civil Liberties Union, that aim to block the commission from collecting information. The reaction prompted the commission to ask states to temporarily hold off on submitting voter data.
In New Hampshire, two state lawmakers and the state’s ACLU chapter are suing Secretary of State Bill Gardner (D) to prevent him from turning over information to the probe. Gardner, who is a member of the Trump panel, has said the voter information the commission seeks is already available to the public.
But the lawsuit says New Hampshire law places specific prohibitions on how voter information can be viewed and used. The law says the public voter file can be inspected at the state archives center “during normal business hours” ― a provision critics say prevents Gardner from collecting and transmitting the data to the commission.
New Hampshire law also says the secretary of state “shall, upon request” provide voter information to a political committee or candidate. Because Trump’s commission is neither a political committee nor a candidate, it is not entitled to voter data, the lawsuit alleges.
New Hampshire state Rep. Neal Kurk (R), who is a plaintiff in the lawsuit and helped write the statutes about sharing voter information, said the legislature intended to limit who would be able to view the data.
“The legislature carefully designed strict restrictions on the sharing of voter information for good reason: to protect voter privacy,” he said in a statement. “These protections would be rendered meaningless by the transfer of this data to the commission, which has established no security protocols and intends to post everything it receives online.”
The New Hampshire attorney general’s office did not return a request for comment.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson (R), another commission member, has also said she will provide limited public voter information to the panel. In a lawsuit filed Tuesday, Joselyn Whitticker, an Indiana voter, along the state’s League of Women’s Voters and NAACP chapters say state law prohibits Lawson from giving away voter information without a written agreement from the person requesting it guaranteeing the data will be protected and won’t be used for commercial or any non-political purposes.
“The commission cannot bypass state rules designed to protect sensitive voter information,” Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s democracy program, said in a statement. “Lawson might be a member of this panel, but her first duty is to the Hoosiers who trusted her with personal information so that they could participate in fair and free elections in the state. She must proceed carefully and with legally mandated procedures before sharing voter data.”
Contacted by HuffPost, Valerie Warycha, a spokeswoman for Lawson’s office, said, “We do not comment on pending litigation.”
Five federal lawsuits accuse the commission of violating privacy and public disclosure laws. Officials in some states have reported an increase in voters seeking to remove themselves from voting rolls after the Trump panel’s request for information.