Democratic U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet blasts White House election commission as a ‘taxpayer-funded fishing expedition’

Author: Ernest Luning - July 5, 2017 - Updated: July 7, 2017

U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet addresses the Colorado Democrats’ 84th Annual Dinner on Saturday, March 11, 2017, at the Marriott Denver City Center. (Photo by Ernest Luning/The Colorado Statesman)

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a Democrat, on Tuesday tore into the White House election commission that asked last week for detailed voter registration data from all 50 states, saying the request “raises serious privacy concerns” and could dampen voter participation.

The bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has drawn sharp criticism from some quarters, including the Republican secretary of state in Mississippi, who said the commission “can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“The Commission’s request for information, which includes a portion of each Colorado voter’s Social Security number, raises serious privacy concerns and may discourage participation in the electoral process,” Bennet said in a statement.

Noting that he only wanted the information that could be provided according to state laws, Kobach asked his fellow secretaries of state a week ago for information from their voter rolls, including full names and addresses, dates of birth, party affiliation, driver’s license numbers, the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers, voting history going back a decade, felony convictions and military and overseas voter status. He also asked his colleagues to share their thoughts on a variety of topics, including evidence of registration and voter fraud, technology security and voter disenfranchisement.

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said he plans to provide only the voter data that’s publicly available — including full name, party registration and birth year but not precise birthdates, any portion of voters’ Social Security numbers or other data considered confidential under Colorado law.

In addition to expressing concerns about the commission’s request for voter data, Bennet urged President Donald Trump to focus on ways to boost voter participation and warned him against taking his eye off the Russians and that country’s efforts to meddle in last year’s presidential election.

“Instead of this taxpayer-funded fishing expedition, the president should look to Colorado for ways we can encourage participation in our elections, such as increasing options for early voting and mail-in ballots,” Bennet said. “And under no circumstances should this Commission distract from the real threat to our democracy: Russian interference in our elections. President Trump should do more to hold Russia accountable and safeguard our democracy.”

Following numerous claims both before and after the November election that the election was “rigged” and that “millions of people … voted illegally,” Trump created the commission last month to look into vulnerabilities in election systems “that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”

Lynn Bartels, a spokeswoman for Williams said the secretary plans to turn over the Colorado voter data to the commission on the morning of July 14, the due date set by Kobach. She said the office plans to waive the usual $50 fee for the data — which is purchased regularly by candidates, political parties and media outlets — as is customary when providing it to government agencies.

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning

Ernest Luning is a political correspondent for Colorado Politics. He has covered politics and government for newspapers and online news sites in Colorado for more than 25 years, including at the Highlands Ranch Herald, the Jefferson Sentinels chain of community newspapers and the Aurora Sentinel, where he was the city hall and cops reporter. After editing the Aurora Daily Sun, he was a political reporter and blogger for The Colorado Independent site. Since 2009, he has been the senior political reporter and occasional editor for The Colorado Statesman.