Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, acting as vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, has asked every state to provide its voter data: names, voting histories, dates of birth, party registrations, even the last four digits of registrants’ Social Security numbers.
Criticism of the request began immediately. Secretaries of state across the country, including Republicans, denounced it as intrusive and improper and refused to comply.
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, summed up the general sentiment. “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” he said.
By Wednesday, The Nation reported, 20 states had refused Kobach outright, while 25 others plan to honor just part of the request. (Kobach disputes those figures.) The reasons for the denial? The information isn’t available or is protected under privacy laws.
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
The reaction was a stunning bipartisan rebuke for Kobach, whose grasp of the law and public policy always seems tenuous. He should be embarrassed.
The problem isn’t the voter information itself, which is largely public. The concern is how Kobach would use the data if he gets it.
For one possibility, we should look at another request made quietly the same day as Kobach’s.
On June 28, the Justice Department sent a letter to all 50 states asking how each purges its rolls of dead and relocated voters. The National Voter Registration Act — the motor-voter law — requires states to make a “reasonable effort” to clean up voter registration lists.
Those statewide lists are undoubtedly messy, with mismatched names, addresses and dates of birth. That’s because voter registration is still a job for cities and counties, which lack the resources to maintain up-to-the-minute voter rolls.
But it isn’t hard to see how Kobach might combine the Justice Department response with the voter lists from the states to claim registrations are hopelessly corrupt and suggest that the motor-voter law should be scrapped.
That would lead to fewer voters, which always seems to be his goal.
There are important things a federal voting integrity commission could actually accomplish if it were so inclined. It could recommend additional federal resources for states to properly and legally clean up their voter lists.
The commission could examine universal voter registration efforts in Oregon and other states with a goal of expanding to other locations. It could offer money to protect election software from hackers.
But ensuring that more people vote doesn’t seem to be a Republican priority. The House is poised to dismantle the Election Assistance Commission, a federal agency established after the 2000 election to help states with election rules.
That’s why Kobach’s request doesn’t seem unique. It’s part of a larger effort designed to make it harder to vote.
Any resistance to free, fair and open elections is regrettable. Americans should be reminded that voting isn’t a privilege bestowed by Kris Kobach. It’s a right guaranteed to every citizen over 18 years of age, with just a few exceptions.
Republican and Democratic officials have delivered that message. Kobach and the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity should listen.