Forty-four states refuse to give certain voter information to Trump commission

Some states criticize the request, saying they will not give out voters' private information like Social Security numbers, birth dates, and party affiliations.

(File: Scott Olson, Getty Images via CBS)

WASHINGTON, D.C. (CNN) — Forty-four states have refused to provide certain types of voter information to the Trump administration’s election integrity commission, according to a CNN inquiry to all 50 states.

State leaders and voting boards across the country have responded to the letter with varying degrees of cooperation — from altogether rejecting the request to expressing eagerness to supply information that is public.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which President Donald Trump created by executive order in May, sent a letter to all 50 states last Wednesday requesting a bevy of voter data, which he notes will eventually be made available to the public.

The order came months after Trump claimed without evidence that millions had voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. When states began to express concerns about the legality of his administration’s efforts to investigate voter fraud, Trump called them out on Twitter on Saturday, questioning whether they were hiding something.

“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” Trump tweeted.

The information the commission is seeking includes registrants’ full names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, the last four digits of their social security numbers, a list of the elections they voted in since 2006, information on any felony convictions, information on whether they were registered to vote in other states, their military status, and whether they lived overseas.

The vice chairman’s letter twice requests only “public” voter information, and Kobach clarified the specifics of his request Friday: “Every state receives the same letter, but we’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available,” he told The Kansas City Star.

Kobach also told CNN’s Anderson Cooper last week, “Whatever a person on the street can walk in and get, that’s what we would like.”

Kobach cited a Pew Center on the States study from February 2012 that called for revisions of state voter registration lists.

“This office will not share any information not already available to the public. …” -Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill

“The Pew Center estimated last year that 1.8 million deceased people are still on the voter rolls throughout the states,” Kobach told Cooper. “They said that’s an estimate. They think it’s a low estimate. Now, for the first time, we can actually bounce the states’ voter rolls against the Social Security administration’s own database to find out how many of those people actually are on the voter rolls.”

The Kansas secretary also addressed the criticism from several secretaries of state over the past few days that the commission might be seeking to legitimize Trump’s assertions that widespread voter fraud cost him votes last November.

“First of all, the commission is not to prove or disprove what the President speculated about in January,” Kobach said. “The purpose of the commission is to find facts and put them on the table. Importantly, it’s a bipartisan commission.”

But the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, seemed to misunderstand voter privacy laws nationwide. Every state that responded to the commission’s letter said it could not provide Social Security numbers, for example. Others said they consider information such as birth dates and party affiliations to be private.

What’s more, Kobach asked states to supply the information through an online portal. Many states have rejected this specific request, noting that the commission should file a voter information request through established state websites, as any other party would.

As of Tuesday afternoon, two states — Florida and Nebraska — are still reviewing the commission’s request. Another two states — Hawaii and New Jersey — have not returned CNN’s request for comment. And while six states are still awaiting a letter from the commission, four of them — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — have already pledged not to provide voters’ private information. The other two of those six states, Arkansas and Illinois, have not released statements ahead of receiving the letter.

Just three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — commended Kobach’s attempt to investigate voter fraud in their respective statements.

“We are very glad they are asking for information before making decisions,” said Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams, a Republican. “I wish more federal agencies would ask folks for their opinion and for information before they made decisions.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft, also a Republican, echoed Williams’ sentiment in a statement Friday: “The commission’s questions are fair and we will be glad to assist in offering our thoughts on these important matters,” he said. “I look forward to working with Sec. Kris 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.”

Other states were more critical. Nineteen openly criticized the commission’s request.

“The President’s Commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release,” said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, a Republican, on Monday afternoon. “My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”

Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, also a Republican, took the criticism a step further.

“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” Hosemann said in a statement Friday. “Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”

Three state leaders also raised doubts about the integrity of the commission itself, and many questioned the existence of widespread voter fraud.

“This entire commission is based on the specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November,” Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, said Thursday. “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.”

“Given Sec. Kobach’s history we find it very difficult to have confidence in the work of this Commission,” Connecticut Sec. of State Denise Merrill, also a Democrat, said in a statement Thursday, pointing to what she alleged was Kobach’s “lengthy record of illegally disenfranchising eligible voters in Kansas.”

As Kansas’ secretary of state, Kobach backed a national cross-referencing system to allow states to check their voter rolls for overlaps, which drew criticisms that the system was too prone to allowing legitimate voters to be purged from voting systems. Kobach also fought unsuccessfully in court for the ability to require verification of citizenship on voter registration forms.

State of Play: Where do our local states stand?

  • Alabama: “This office will not share any information not already available to the public. …” Secretary of State John Merrill said in a statement Friday. “The Secretary of State’s Office will comply with the request if we are convinced that the overall effort will produce the necessary results to accomplish the Commission’s stated goal without compromising the integrity of the voter rolls and the elections process in Alabama.”
  • Georgia: “The Georgia Secretary of State’s Office will provide the publicly available voter list,” Press Secretary Candice L. Broce told CNN Friday. “As specified in Georgia law, the public list does not contain a registered voter’s driver’s license number, social security number, month and day of birth, site of voter registration, phone number, or email address.”

Click here for a full list of the states’ responses.

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