Election officials on Friday tore into a suggestion by the co-chair of a White House commission on election fraud that Colorado voters withdrawing their registration might have something to hide.
After Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the Republican vice chair of the bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, asked for extensive voter registration data from every state last month, thousands of Colorado voters have withdrawn their registration or applied to keep their voter records confidential, according to local election officials.
While Colorado’s Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams initially said he would comply with Kobach’s request for the voter data state law considers public — full name, address and party affiliation, for instance, but not precise birthdate or Social Security numbers — he agreed this week with a subsequent commission request to postpone sending in the data pending resolution of a lawsuit to block its release.
In a radio interview Thursday, Kobach said he’d seen a story about the droves of Colorado residents removing themselves from the voter rolls and speculated they might not have been eligible to vote in the first place — perhaps because they were felons or weren’t U.S. citizens, he mused. He also called the move “a political stunt” and wondered if it was an attempt to discredit the commission.
“It could be a number of things,” Kobach told Breitbart News. “It could be, actually, people who are not qualified to vote, perhaps someone who is a felon and is disqualified that way, or someone who is not a U.S. citizen saying, ‘I’m withdrawing my voter registration because I am not able to vote.’ It could be a political stunt – people who are trying to discredit the commission and withdrawing temporarily because they are politically active but planning to get back on the voter rolls before the election next November.”
In the two weeks since Kobach’s request for voter data generated headlines, at least 3,394 Colorado voters have withdrawn their registration, and 182 more have made their records confidential — a much higher rate than usual, the secretary of state’s office said Thursday.
Kobach maintained in the radio interview that simply “studying the issue of voter fraud has tapped such a raw nerve” with several organizations — including the Electronic Privacy Information Center, the Lawyers’ Committee on Human Rights and the ACLU — suing the commission to prevent it from collecting the voter data it’s seeking or, in some cases, from meeting at all. The reaction, Kobach said, “tells you that they really, really don’t want a presidential commission finding out what there is to see.”
The commission, established by President Donald Trump to investigate allegations made without evidence that “millions” of fraudulent votes were cast in last year’s election, drew intense criticism from across the political spectrum when Kobach asked for the voter data. The commission also drew lawsuits alleging it’s violating federal privacy laws and isn’t adhering to other legal requirements.
Colorado election officials rejected Kobach’s comments, calling them “irresponsible” and “disingenuous” while at the same time urging partisans on both sides to dial back the rhetoric.
“I believe it is unfair and disingenuous to accuse voters of engaging in a political stunt,” said Denver Director of Elections Amber McReynolds. “Voters have told us directly their withdrawals are due to privacy concerns,” she added, pointing to messages she’s received from alarmed voters since Kobach issued his request.
“Based on voter comments we have received, the scenarios presented by (Secretary Kobach) are not accurate based on what we have seen, and, additionally, withdrawals have happened across party affiliations,” McReynolds said.
Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Matt Crane, a Republican in office since 2013 and last year’s head of the Colorado County Clerks Association, said he was troubled by arguments on both sides of the controversy but took particular aim at Kobach’s recent remarks.
“We have no reason or data to suggest that the voters who have withdrawn their voter registration were not eligible electors,” Crane told Colorado Politics. “I think any comments to the contrary are irresponsible and only further undermine our citizen’s confidence in how our elections our conducted. It is extremely unfortunate that the President’s Commission has brought out the worst in political activists from all sides. Once again, when this happens, it is our citizens that feel the negative effect of this irresponsible, fact-starved dialogue.”
Crane said Arapahoe County hasn’t witnessed “an avalanche” of voters withdrawing from the rolls this month but has seen a sharp jump since Kobach requested the data and his critics raised their objections.
“[W]e need to study the reasons why,” Crane said. “There is no question that the data request from the Presidential Commission, as well as some of the political responses to that request, have led people to withdraw. The conduct of our elections should be absolutely free from political rhetoric, but once again we see that is not the case.”
Crane also encouraged residents to stay registered and exercise their right to vote, adding that Coloradans with questions about how voter registration information is handled should contact their local county clerk and recorder.
Asked what Williams thought about Kobach’s remarks, a spokeswoman on Friday pointed to a statement her boss recently made urging Coloradans who have withdrawn their registration to re-register.
“Clearly,” said Lynn Bartels, the secretary of state’s communications director, “he was talking about valid Colorado voters.”