Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach has asked every state in the nation to provide President Donald Trump’s new voter commission with the names, birthdates and Social Security information for registered voters going back to 2006.
In a Wednesday letter, Kobach asked the Connecticut secretary of state’s office to provide the commission with all publicly available voter roll data, including the full names of all registered voters along with their addresses, dates of birth, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, voting history and other personal information.
Kobach said in a phone call that he sent similar letters to election officials in every state and that as Kansas’ top election official he will be providing the commission with all of the information for Kansas voters.
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The request faced backlash from election officials in some other states, including California, the most populous state in the nation. The state’s Democratic secretary of state plans to buck the request.
Kobach clarified that the personal data would be hosted on a secure server run by the federal government and not disclosed to the public. He said that the request for the Social Security digits was meant “to prevent false positives,” such as when two people share the same name and birthday.
He said that his critics have attacked the Interstate Crosscheck System, a data sharing system between states that Kansas oversees, for producing false positives and that this would ensure more accurate data. Kobach has previously promised that the commission would undertake the most comprehensive study of voter fraud to date.
“The idea is to have the best data possible,” Kobach said. “The purpose of the commission is to quantify different forms of voter fraud and registration fraud and offer solutions. And so you have to have this data in order to do any meaningful research.”
Kobach said the commission would cross-reference the data provided by states against federal databases to determine the number of non-citizens registered in each state, dead people still on the voter rolls and people registered in more than one jurisdiction.
California Secretary of State Alex Padilla said in a statement that he will “not provide sensitive voter information to a commission that has already inaccurately passed judgment that millions of Californians voted illegally.”
“California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud made by the President, the Vice President, and Mr. Kobach. The President’s Commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections,” Padilla said.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, a Republican, called the commission’s requests fair and said that his office looks “forward to working with Secretary Kobach and the commission on its findings and offer our support in the collective effort to enhance the American people’s confidence in the integrity of the elections process.”
Ashcroft’s father, former U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, was a mentor for Kobach during his tenure at the U.S. Department of Justice.
Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, a Democrat, said in a statement that her office plans to share “publicly-available information with the Kobach commission while ensuring that the privacy of voters is honored by withholding protected data.”
“In the same spirit of transparency, we will request that the commission share any memos, meeting minutes or additional information as state officials have not been told precisely what the commission is looking for,” she said. “This lack of openness is all the more concerning, considering that the vice chair of the commission, Kris Kobach, has a lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas.”
Kobach has championed some of the strictest voting laws in the country during his tenure as secretary of state. Those laws have faced multiple lawsuits.
Last week, a federal judge fined him $1,000 for making “patently misleading representations” about documents he took to a November meeting with Trump that relate to federal voting law as part of an ongoing voting rights case.
“The courts have repudiated his methods on multiple occasions but often after the damage has been done to voters,” Merrill said. “Given Secretary Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this commission.”
The commission is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. Pence’s spokesman, Marc Lotter, said that in the commission’s first phone meeting Wednesday every member on the call supported the request for documents.
Vanita Gupta, the former head of the U.S. Department of Justice’s office of Civil Rights, said that the timing of the letter coincides with a Justice Department request to states for information on voter registration processes. Gupta, who now leads the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said the letters “seem to confirm that the Trump administration is laying the groundwork to suppress the right to vote.”
Kobach called this criticism “complete nonsense.”
“There’s no way you can suppress somebody’s vote simply by knowing they’re registered,” he said, noting that states’ voter registration files are public records. “How does having the last four Social allow the federal government to suppress your vote?”
Rick Hasen, an election law expert at the University of California, Irvine, said that Kobach’s request raises questions about what safeguards will be put in place to protect voters’ data. He said the letter does not make that clear.
“If Barack Obama tried to get all of this information from state election officials it would be front page news on Fox News for months and would prompt a congressional investigation of federal takeover of state election processes,” Hasen said.
Kobach’s letter to Merrill asks her to provide her thoughts on how to enhance election integrity and to submit a response electronically by July 14. It states that documents submitted to the commission will become available to the public. Kobach said only the input from election officials will be made public, not voters’ data.
Kobach said that his quest to analyze the national data would not impact his duties in Kansas.
“The voter integrity commission is so squarely aligned with what I’m doing as secretary of state that it enhances it,” he said.
Anita Kumar of the McClatchy Washington Bureau contributed to this report.