President Donald Trump’s opaque voter fraud probe released the most comprehensive look at its inner workings to date in court documents Friday, providing a clearer sense of how it plans to use the voter data it has collected and raising new questions about its scope and goals.
The commission’s work so far has been unclear; even some commissioners have said they’re not exactly sure what the panel is working on. Friday’s disclosure is significant because it shows officials on the probe have contacted officials with the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Justice and the Social Security Administration ― which suggests the commission may be proceeding with a plan to compare the voter data it’s collected against federal databases.
The commission is declining to release the email exchanges themselves, saying they are either administrative in nature or constitute individual research. Spokespeople for the commission, as well as for DOJ and the SSA, did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
“The information released by the so-called Commission on Election Integrity as a result of our lawsuit paints an incomplete but alarming record about the Commission’s work and intentions,” Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said in a statement.
The commission had previously indicated it was considering running voter data from different states through a DHS database. The log released Friday contains multiple exchanges between commission officials and the agency.
On May 12, the day after Trump signed an executive order establishing the commission, a DHS official emailed the office of Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the commission, asking about its scope. On June 28, Andrew Kossack, the panel’s designated federal officer, emailed Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair of the commission, and other officials in Pence’s office about “potential partnership opportunities with DHS.” About a week later, someone at DHS emailed Kossack about “potential coordination/overlap between entities.” The log also shows Kossack and Kobach emailing with DHS to set up a time to talk on the phone.
Anna Franko, a DHS spokeswoman, confirmed that the agency had been communicating with the commission.
“We have been in contact with commission members but have not yet provided any data,” she wrote in an email. Franko declined to provide any more details about DHS’ contact with the commission.
Observers have noted that any attempt to use DHS data to detect voter fraud is likely to produce false positives.
The commission also contacted the Social Security Administration in August, the log shows. Kobach had previously said the commission could compare voter data with Social Security databases to identify dead voters still on the rolls.
The log also documents several exchanges between the commission and the Department of Justice, offering the first documentation of contact between the panel and that agency. The contact is significant because Eric Dreiband, Trump’s pick to lead the Department’s civil rights division, told Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee as part of his confirmation process that he believed the commission and the department to be separate, and said he didn’t anticipate having a role in the probe. Senate Democrats are pressing DOJ to describe in more detail any collaboration the department has had with the commission.
On May 15, a DOJ official emailed Christy McCormick, a commissioner on the panel, about the Chicago board of elections. About two months later, at the beginning of July, a DOJ official emailed McCormick about a “voting issue.” At the beginning of September, a DOJ official sent McCormick an email forwarding a link to a news story.
On June 15, Kossack, the panel’s federal officer, emailed a DOJ official to set up a time to speak. A little over a month later, Kossack emailed a DOJ official about “collecting data from non-state entities.”
The log also raises new questions about a controversial June 28 letter the commission sent out to all 50 states requesting voter information. In the week ahead of the letter’s release, Kobach and two other commissioners, Hans von Spakovsky and J. Christian Adams, exchanged emails about its contents. Von Spakovsky, Adams and Kobach are three of the most controversial picks for the commission, and critics of the probe say they intend to weaken confidence in American election systems and make it more difficult to vote. Von Spakovsky also emailed Adams, Kobach and Kossack about potential commission members.
“It appears that known vote-suppressors Kris Kobach, J. Christian Adams, and Hans von Spakovsky, worked together without the input of other commissioners to develop the unprecedented June 28th letter to state election officials seeking personal voter information,” Clarke said.
The commission has received proposals from third parties for data analysis. It’s unclear what data those groups would be analyzing, but a number of voting advocates and election officials have expressed concern about how the commission might handle and secure sensitive voter data.
“These documents raise serious concerns about the potential coordination between the Pence-Kobach commission and government agencies, including the Justice Department, the Social Security Administration and the Department of Homeland Security,” said Vanita Gupta, former head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, and president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights.
“As we noted in June when the Commission demanded information from Secretaries of State on the same day the Justice Department sent a letter to states covered under the National Voter Registration Act, it was highly suspect then, and it is highly suspect now,” Gupta continued. “The public deserves to know what was discussed in these communications, and just what this commission is doing and how it will undermine the right to vote.”
Friday’s document can be seen in full below.