From [NewYorkTimes] Last Wednesday, Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas and the vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, wrote a letter to all 50 states, requesting that they send the commission the personal information of all registered voters.
This includes full names, birth dates, addresses, political affiliations, voting history and last four digits of Social Security numbers. The letter says that all documents provided to the commission will be made public.
What could possibly go wrong?
There are obvious data privacy concerns. Digital security experts have called the plan a gold mine for hackers. Mr. Kobach’s letter says the data will be held on a “secure FTP site,” but offers no details. Mr. Kobach himself appears to be backtracking, recently saying that, notwithstanding his request to other states, he will not be giving Kansas voters’ Social Security information to his own commission.
More important, it’s obvious that the commission collecting this information is intended to sell President Trump’s lie that he “won” the popular vote (once you deduct the millions of supposedly illegal votes, of course).
We know this because Mr. Kobach, the de facto head of the commission, is a champion of that lie: “I think the president-elect is absolutely correct when he says the number of illegal votes cast exceeds the popular vote margin between him and Hillary Clinton,” he told reporters last fall.
This commission is not meant to ensure that America’s voter rolls are accurate. It is meant to disenfranchise voters.
Mr. Kobach will most likely use your data to make exaggerated claims about untold numbers of people who are supposedly registered and voting in multiple states. For years, he has operated an “Interstate Crosscheck” system, which purports to compare voter rolls in about 30 states, in order to identify possible double registrants. This new endeavor looks like Crosscheck on steroids.
Ensuring that voter rolls are accurate and up-to-date is a worthy goal. Comparing registration lists to find people who have moved can be a useful practice, but only if it’s done accurately and appropriate safeguards are built in, like giving voters notice and an opportunity to contest their removal in case they are mistakenly flagged. A reliable system that automatically updates voter rolls when people move could be an innovative way both to maintain the accuracy of rolls and to help voters participate without unnecessary bureaucratic headaches.
Mr. Kobach’s Interstate Crosscheck program is not that system. A recent study found that using Crosscheck to purge the voter rolls in Iowa would “impede 200 legal votes” for “every double vote prevented.”
Crosscheck considers two names to be matches based on very loose criteria, like first and last name, even if the Social Security numbers don’t match. That generates many false positives and might result in lots of people getting purged who are legitimately registered in only one state.
Several states, including Florida, have abandoned the system, citing its unreliability. Indeed, even the Crosscheck user manual itself concedes that “a significant number of apparent double votes are false positives and not double votes.”
Even if the commission does end up finding people who are registered to vote in more than one state, that fact is not, by itself, evidence of fraud. We have a decentralized elections system and we live in a mobile society. So it’s inevitable that some people will end up registered in more than one state. Just ask members of the president’s family and inner circle like Stephen K. Bannon, Steven Mnuchin, Jared Kushner and Tiffany Trump, all of whom were apparently registered in multiple states last year.
In any event, once the commission manufactures its false headlines about widespread fraud, it will turn to recommendations. There are two things to worry about.
It will probably call for removing voters from rolls. But dubious information about people who may have moved from one state to another should not be the basis for this. To take one example, last year, the A.C.L.U. and our co-counsel Demos challenged a process used by Ohio that marks voters for removal if they have failed to vote in two years.
The idea is apparently that failing to participate even in a single midterm election, which more than half of registered voters typically fail to do, constitutes evidence that a voter may have moved. The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit disagreed and halted the practice, which prevented the state from throwing away 7,500 ballots in the 2016 election. The Supreme Court will review the case in the fall.
For more than 20 years, the Department of Justice has consistently argued that such purges based on nonvoting are illegal, and has threatened legal action against states that do not follow the law.
But it wouldn’t be shocking if the commission comes out in favor of unreliable purges like Ohio’s. And the Trump administration might make the Justice Department an accomplice in such efforts by reorienting the priorities of the Civil Rights Division away from protecting voters, in favor of actively supporting states’ efforts to cull the registration lists. That’s the opposite of elections integrity, which requires making sure that eligible voters are not kicked off the rolls.
We can also expect new proposals to limit access to the ballot. During the presidential transition, Mr. Kobach was photographed meeting with Mr. Trump and carrying a document that appeared to propose amending the federal motor-voter law, a document that he has refused to make public. That’s alarming: The motor-voter law has been a critical bulwark protecting voters’ rights against Mr. Kobach’s schemes, including his “show me your papers” law that requires voter registration applicants in Kansas to provide a citizenship document like a passport or a birth certificate when registering to vote.
That requirement makes voter registration drives all but impossible, as very few people carry such documents around with them, and fewer are likely to share them with strangers. It seems probable that the commission is a Trojan horse for the Trump administration to propose changes to the federal law that has stymied Mr. Kobach’s voter suppression agenda, and thus allow him to replicate it nationwide.
Fortunately, elections officials in more than 20 states have announced that they will either not comply at all or refuse some aspects of Mr. Trump’s demand for our data. Mr. Trump has implied that these states are up to no good, asking in a tweet, “What are they trying to hide?” That’s pretty rich, given that Mr. Trump has so far failed to make the names of the commission’s staff public and that the commission’s “organizational call” was convened without public notice and was not open to the public.
The Mississippi Republican secretary of state, Delbert Hosemann, said on Friday that the commission can “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” Voters in all other states should demand a similar response from their elections officials, who should refuse to participate in this charade. Our elected officials should be doing everything they can to preserve and advance the right to vote, not endanger it.
Dale Ho is the director of the A.C.L.U.’s Voting Rights Project.