From Kansas to Trump's voter commission: Who is Kris Kobach?
Multiple states plan to buck Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s request for personal information on voters on behalf of a presidential commission.
Kobach said Friday that Kansas, at least for now, also won’t be sharing Social Security information with the commission, on which he serves as vice chairman. The state will share other information about the state’s registered voters, including names and addresses, which are subject to the state’s open records laws.
Kobach sent letters on behalf of the commission to every state requesting names, addresses, voting history and other personal information, such as the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, earlier this week.
Kobach said Thursday that Kansas would provide all the information requested in the letter, but in a follow-up interview Friday, he said the state would not be sharing the Social Security information at this time.
“In Kansas, the Social Security number is not publicly available. … Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available,” Kobach said.
He did not rule out the possibility of providing that information to the commission in the future.
“If the commission decides that they would like to receive Social Security numbers to a secure site in order to remove false positives, then we would have to double check and make sure Kansas law permits,” Kobach said.
“I know for a fact that this information would be secured and maintained confidentially,” he added in response to security concerns.
California and Kentucky’s Democratic secretaries of state said Thursday that they would not comply with the request. Virginia’s Democratic governor also said the state would not adhere to the request. Minnesota’s Democratic secretary of state followed suit on Friday.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, also will not comply.
“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from,” Hosemann said in a statement. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our State’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
Other states, including Republican-led Oklahoma and Utah, announced plans to provide some information to the commission while withholding other pieces, such as the partial Social Security numbers.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office said Friday that it would not provide Social Security information or voting history to the commission. Ashcroft, a Republican, had said the day before that he looked forward to working with Kobach on the issue.
North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper, a Democrat, said in a statement Friday that he had advised the state’s voting board to not provide sensitive information beyond what is in the public record.
“That’s perfectly fine,” Kobach said Friday when asked about states that would provide names but withhold other information. “We understand that. And that is entirely up to each state.”
Kobach said the commission is seeking only information that is publicly available.
Trump expressed his frustration on Twitter Saturday about states’ resistance to providing the information.
“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” the president said.
Trump has repeatedly made the unsupported claim that he lost the popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton because of illegal votes.
Kobach has said that personal information provided by states will not be disclosed, but many readers, including other election officials, have interpreted a line saying that documents will be made public to mean that all the information will be disclosed.
“The commission openly disclosed that all of this requested personal data, including social security numbers and voting history, would be made available to the public,” Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon said in a statement Friday. “I will not hand over Minnesota voters’ sensitive personal information to the commission.”
Simon said he fears the commission “risks becoming a partisan tool to shut out millions of eligible American voters.”
Kobach said Friday that the commission has no legal authority to compel states to hand over the information but that the Justice Department does possess such power. He said he could not say whether the department would become involved in the effort to obtain information from states. First, he said, the commission wants to see what information it receives from states.
Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander mocked the fact that Kansas would not provide Social Security information. “Even Kobach thinks Kobach’s request is absurd,” said Kander, who chairs a Democratic National Committee voting rights panel that was formed in response to the president’s voter commission.
Kobach has bristled at the backlash to his request from Democratic leaders.
“They’re trying to use this as a soapbox to make some left-wing political statement,” he said.