White House voting panel makes second request for voter data

After a first request sparked widespread outrage and legal opposition, the White House voting commission is for a second time asking states to hand over data from their voter rolls.

And again, it’s meeting resistance.

The new effort comes after a federal court last week rejected a lawsuit that had sought to block the commission from collecting the data. The commission had put its original request on hold pending the court’s ruling. Several separate lawsuits targeting various aspects of the commission’s work remain pending.

In his second letter to state election officials, sent Wednesday, Kris Kobach, the commission’s vice chair, stressed that individual voter information would be kept “confidential and secure,” and said the commission was offering states a new tool to transfer the data securely.

Those assurances aimed to assuage widespread fears about privacy and data security raised by the commission’s first request late last month, including reports of some voters taking themselves off the rolls. Many states said they wouldn’t cooperate with that request, and others said they’d provide only publicly available information like names, addresses, and party registration. The commission has said that 30 states have provided at least some information.

Some states said Wednesday’s letter does little to ease their concerns.

“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,” California Secretary of State Alex Padilla (pictured), a Democrat, said in a statement.

“On behalf of 3.3 million Kentucky voters, the answer is again no,” said Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat. “[T]he compilation of every American voter’s information would build a national voter registration database, which is unnecessary to improving our elections, opposite our Constitution and state’s rights, and puts voters’ privacy and personal data at risk.”

Another rejection came from Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who is himself a member of the commission. Dunlap, a Democrat, said the request hadn’t been discussed by the group.

“If we’re going to act as a commission, we should really be considering the entire request for data as a body, and determining what it is we’re researching and how to look for it,” Dunlap said in a statement.

The commission is likely to end up with publicly available data from many or most states, but not confidential data like social security numbers. Experts have warned that that partial compilation of data could make any conclusions the panel attempts to draw especially unreliable and prone to false positives.

Kobach and other commissioners have signaled that they aim to use the data to identify ineligible registered voters and to press states to more aggressively pare their rolls. At the commission’s first meeting July 19, commissioners discussed ways to use new sources of information to root out non-citizens and felons.

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