The White House faced a growing revolt Friday among states across the country that are refusing to comply with a request from President Donald Trump’s panel investigating alleged voter fraud to hand over substantial amounts of confidential and sensitive voter data.
The Presidential Commission on Voter Integrity sent what some experts called an alarming letter this week to all 50 states and Washington, D.C., asking officials to turn over âpublicly-available voter roll data.â
However, the panel is also seeking sensitive information, including “dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
The panel gave states two weeks to comply and said it would share the data with the public. The letter requests feedback from states with a series of questions, including citing instances of voter fraud, which experts have concluded is extremely rare.
Trump established the commission through an executive order and it is headed by Vice President Mike Pence. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, an immigration hardliner and strict voter identification law advocate, serves as vice chair and penned the letter.
Almost immediately, a number of states led by Democrats criticized and rejected the request, with some officials calling it a politically-motivated effort to satisfy Trumpâs unfounded claims about rampant voter fraud during the 2016 election. The president has alleged without any evidence that millions of “illegal” votes cost him the popular vote to Hillary Clinton, who topped him by nearly 3 million votes.
âThe president created his election commission based on the false notion that âvoter fraudâ is a widespread issue â it is not,â said Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Grimes, a Democrat. âKentucky will not aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an attempt to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”
At least five states â in which the officials involved with voter registration are all Democrats â said they would not comply at all and at least five other states have informed the commission that they would not provide any sensitive data, only publicly available data. Four of those states have Republican officials handling voter registration.
Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, said the state will not provide confidential information to the commission.
“…(V)oter registration information is a public record and is available online,” he said. “The confidential information, such as the last four digits of a voterâs Social Security number or their Ohio driver license number, is not publicly available and will not be provided to the Commission.â
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, tweeted Friday that his state will not comply with the request. âNY refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election,” Cuomo said.
Also flatly turning down the commission’s request for data were California, Virginia and Minnesota.
âThe only irregularity in the 2016 presidential election centered around Russian tampering,â said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, in a statement.
While officials in some states said they would partly honor the request but not share any protected voter information.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, a Republican, said Friday the state would not release personal information, but would treat the letter as a public records request and provide only information that is considered in the public domain under the law.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, said his state would share only public information and would do so âif we are convinced that the overall effort will produce the necessary resultsâ to accomplish the commissionâs goal âwithout compromising the integrity of the voter rolls and the elections process in Alabama.â
Election law experts and civil liberties advocates told NBC News they were concerned about the panelâs request and its implications for privacy and security and they suggested that the data could potentially be misused to lay the groundwork for voter suppression.
âIt raises a question about what the commission is trying to get at,â said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. âThere needs to be several layers of investigation with a transparent methodology and it appears the commission have skipped those.â
Becker said one of his biggest concerns is any sharing confidential data with the public and, if states were to comply, how the information would be safeguarded.
He pointed to The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, a consortium of 20 states and D.C., which was formed in 2012 and shares voter data, as the gold standard. Becker said that system has âlayers of physical, technical and legal security,â which includes, for instance, securing physical servers, firewalls and strict measures regarding the transmission of data.
The panel did not disclose to the states how it plans to use the data, or safeguard it.
âItâs a huge privacy concern,â said Dale Ho, Director of the ACLUâs Voting Rights Project. âThere may be reason to create a national voter registry (but) we shouldnât do that in two weeks.â
He called it âa shoddy, slapdashâ effort.
Edward Foley, an election law scholar at Ohio State University, said partisanship is clouding the work of the commission.
âPart of the problem, where the blame should fall for this, is the current Pence commission is not a structurally bi-partisan effort. It is a one-sided effort,â Foley said. âWhenever you have one-sided effort, itâs going to be viewed with suspicion from the other side.”
Marc Lotter, a spokesman for the vice president, said the commission’s letter “is the beginning of the fact-finding process.”