Secretary of State Wayne Williams.
A controversy that sprang up heading into the long holiday weekend, which we expect is driving a lot of political discussions at Independence Day celebrations among Colorado’s politically literate class, is both more and less of a deal than the respective sides are making it out to be. Starting with CNN’s report on requests from President Donald Trump’s so-called Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, headed by notorious vote-fraud conspiracy theorist and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, for publicly-available voter data from the states–a request meeting heavy resistance from Secretaries of State on both sides of the aisle:
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sent a letter to each state Wednesday asking a series of questions soliciting feedback about election administration, voter fraud and the integrity of the process. CNN obtained a copy of the letter sent to Maine’s secretary of state.
Kobach also requested that each state provide “publicly available voter roll data” as allowed under each state’s laws, which could include full names of registered voters, dates of birth, party registration, last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting history…
Some state officials began coming out Thursday in opposition to the request — concerned that it was evidence of an agenda by the Trump White House and dismissing it as “politically motivated and silly posturing,” per Virginia’s governor.
“I have no intention of honoring this request,” Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said in a statement. “Virginia conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia. This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November. At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.”
Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican, said of Kobach’s letter: “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from. Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”
The resistance being encountered to these requests from secretaries of state of both sides of the aisle is not so much because it’s confidential information, though some items like partial Social Security numbers and dates of birth may be considered private in some states. The problem is that there is no actual evidence of any widespread or organized voter fraud in American elections, and the continuing promulgation of conspiracy theories insisting such fraud does take place are a major theme of what became known in the 2016 election cycle as “fake news.”
Here in Colorado we have a great deal of experience with unfounded allegations of “thousands of illegal voters” being freely bandied about by Republican politicians, archetypified by former Secretary of State Scott Gessler who claimed with what turned out to be no factual basis that as many as 15,000 or more people had voted illegally in Colorado in 2010. Even though this claim was totally debunked in subsequent analysis, it still found its way into leading conservative media outlets during last year’s elections. The unfounded claims of impending vote fraud got so far out of hand that Colorado’s incumbent Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams went on a press tour to assure voters that Colorado’s election system was secure.
So you’d think Williams would be leading the charge to shut down this latest round of silly-season speculation about “voter fraud” from Donald Trump and these longtime agents of unfounded misinformation, right?
Well, not exactly:
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said today that his office will release voter-roll information that is public under state law to a presidential election commission that asked for “publicly-available roll data,” but it will withhold data that is confidential…
“We will provide publicly available information on the voter file, which is all they have asked for,” Williams said.
State law requires the office to provide a copy of the voter registration list upon request. The publicly available list includes the full name, address, year of birth, political party and vote history of persons registered to vote in the state. It does not contain personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, or full dates of birth — and that information will be withheld from the commission.
The commission also sought the “views and recommendations” from secretaries of state across the political spectrum on seven specific issues, including whether they have evidence of voter fraud or registration fraud in their state, how the commission can support election administrators with regard to information technology security and vulnerabilities, and how voters can be protected from intimidation or disenfranchisement.
In response to news reports that Secretary of State Wayne Williams will cooperate with the Kobach commission’s request for already-public voter data, his office has been fiercely criticized with (we’re trying to say this nicely) varying degrees of factuality. If you’re worried that this data might find its way into the hands of “the Russians” to someday vote on your behalf or empty your checking account, you can stop worrying because they already have it. The data that Williams’ office is “releasing” to the Kobach commission is available to anyone who requests it for a nominal fee. Every political campaign in the state has it for the district they are running in, and there is a huge national industry that revolves around augmenting this data with everything else corporate America legally knows about you to create a frighteningly accurate profile. And it’s all legal.
So no, the problem is not that Williams is being cavalier with your personal information, because it’s not really that big a deal. The problem is that, in the statements Williams has made so far about the Kobach commission, he has validated the commission’s purpose–or at least failed to condemn it. Other states who have given this publicly available data to the commission have still managed to criticize the whole undertaking, much like Williams himself criticized Trump’s unfounded warnings of voter fraud in the 2016 elections.
Williams did the right thing last year, and the way to follow that up now is to clearly state the facts that every responsible Colorado elections official already know: we don’t have vote fraud in Colorado on any level that justifies impeding access to the franchise. That any attempt to “crack down” on supposed vote fraud would disenfranchise more legal voters than it would catch fraud. This commission is a a solution in search of a problem, with ulterior motives that are plain to see.
Before Williams hands over your data, let’s see that in a statement.