Democratic Secretary of State candidate Jena Griswold blasted Republican incumbent Wayne Williams on Friday for agreeing to go along with a White House election commission’s request for voter data even as privacy advocates challenged its legality and thousands of Colorado voters were canceling their registrations. But a spokeswoman for Williams said the secretary has simply been following the law by treating the state’s voter rolls as public records.
Griswold, who announced her candidacy on Wednesday, took Williams to task for waiting until the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity told states to delay delivering voter data while a judge considers a lawsuit to block its release.
Williams said Tuesday he would halt plans to send the data to Washington until he hears further from the commission.
“Williams did not postpone sending Colorado voter information to the Trump commission until the commission itself asked him to postpone,” Griswold said Friday. “For a week, while there were mounting legal challenges to the commission’s request, Williams remained steadfast in his resolve to comply with the commission.” She noted that nearly 3,400 Colorado voters have recently cancelled their voter registration, calling the development “a disservice to Colorado.”
Griswold told Colorado Politics in an interview that she believes Williams should have done more.
“It’s prudent to say we’re going to wait and see how this works out once we know this request might not be valid, but in the meantime, we have thousands of voters withdrawing their registration. It’s the role of the secretary of state to say, ‘In Colorado, we will not roll back our voting laws, we do not want people to be disenfranchised.’ Setting the tone is important. Wayne never came out and said that.”
Lynn Bartels, communications director for the secretary of state’s office, told Colorado Politics that Williams “believes it his constitutional duty to follow state law. Until the laws are changed, Colorado’s voter rolls are public records.”
She also pointed out that Williams had called on voters who dropped their registration to re-register.
“It’s my hope that folks who withdrew their registration will re-register, particularly once they realize that no confidential information will be provided and that the parties and presidential candidates already have the same publicly available information from the 2016 election cycle,” Williams said Thursday evening in a statement.
Between the commission’s June 28 request and close of business Thursday, at least 3,394 Colorado voters had withdrawn their registration, and another 182 had asked county clerks to mark their information confidential, the secretary of state’s office said. While county clerks have said those numbers are significantly higher than usual, Bartels noted that the total is only roughly 0.09 percent of the state’s 3,726,193 registered voters.
The commission, established by President Donald Trump to investigate claims of widespread voter fraud and headed by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, sparked a furor nationwide in late June when it asked election officials in every state to turn over all publicly available voter data.
Williams said he would provide only the voter data considered public — withholding some data Kobach had requested, including precise birthdates, portions of voters’ Social Security numbers and other information Colorado law deems confidential — but the request was met with fierce criticism from advocacy groups and officials questioning the commission’s motives, as well as voters who said they didn’t want their records sent to Washington.
On July 3, a week before the commission asked states to wait before proceeding, the Electronic Privacy Information Center charged in a lawsuit that Kobach violated federal law by skirting required steps involving privacy, as well as potentially exposing millions of Americans to identity theft by requesting the data on an insecure server.
The day after the commission’s letter arrived, Williams began stressing that he was only planning to submit the same data virtually anyone can easily obtain from the state.
“The context is that they’re asking for the information that is publicly available, and we will provide the publicly available information — just like anyone in the state can grab a CD of it for 50 bucks,” he told Colorado Politics. He added that political parties and candidates regularly purchase voter data identical to what his office planned to send to the commission. “We never demand that you only get the information for proper purposes. That would kind of eviscerate the entire concept of open records.”
Griswold told Colorado Politics that a request for personal data from the federal government was different.
“The federal government is not like a third party,” she said. “It’s not like the Colorado Republican Party or the Colorado Democratic Party. The federal government itself has internal procedures and laws it has to comply with – to make sure you’re not going on a fishing expedition and to make sure any data you’re providing is secured.”
Like Williams, Griswold encouraged voters to stay on the rolls.
“One of the ways we make our voices heard is by voting in elections,” she said.