Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said Thursday he plans to fulfill a White House commission’s request for detailed state voter data by providing the same publicly available information that would be available to anyone who asks — but he’ll hold back certain data considered confidential.
Along with every other secretary of state in the country, Williams received a letter Wednesday detailing the request from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a co-chair of the bipartisan Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which was created last month by President Donald Trump to examine vulnerabilities in election systems “that could lead to improper voter registrations, improper voting, fraudulent voter registrations and fraudulent voting.”
The commission, which is co-chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, is seeking a raft of information from state election officials on their voter rolls, including full names and addresses, dates of birth, party affiliation, voting history going back a decade, felony convictions, military and overseas citizen status.
Kobach 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.
Democratic election officials and voting-rights groups greeted the request with howls of outrage, with some secretaries of state saying they will refuse to comply with the commission’s request.
“The president’s commission is a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections,” said California Secretary of State Alex Padilla in a statement.
Former Missouri Secretary of State Jason Kander, who heads the Let America Vote watchdog organization, sounded the alarm.
“It’s obviously very concerning when the federal government is attempting to get the name, address, birth date, political party and Social Security number of every voter in the country,” he said in a statement. “I certainly don’t trust the Trump administration with that information, and people across the country should be outraged.”
Williams told Colorado Politics he was baffled by some of the reaction.
“I don’t understand the political posturing,” he said in an interview.
“Colorado’s going to participate, we’re going to provide the publicly available information just like we do to anyone else that asks, and certainly we want the opportunity to provide input as to how the process can be better,” Williams said, noting that the commission had requested some data that Colorado law considers confidential and could put voters at risk of identity theft — such as birthdate and the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number. (The state does provide birth year with voter data.)
“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 said, sounding bemused at the controversy. “It’s not like this information couldn’t be gotten by other means, but I’d much rather it be gotten from authoritative sources.”
Williams noted that political parties and candidates regularly purchase voter data identical to what his office plans to hand over to the White House commission. “We never demand that you only get the information for proper purposes,” he said. “That would kind of eviscerate the entire concept of open records.”
Williams said he would huddle with staff over the next week to consider Kobach’s questions about various election integrity matters and would share his responses with the public when he submits them. But he added that he thought it refreshing that the commission was asking for suggestions before starting its work.
“I am glad that you have a federal agency that is asking for input and information before they make decisions because so often at the federal level you have entities that don’t ask those questions until after they’ve already made a preliminary or a final decision,” Williams said. “I wish more federal agencies would do that.”
Describing Kobach’s questions as “neutral,” Williams said he was interested in raising issues surrounding potential voter intimidation “when we move away from voting in a pristine polling place,” like Colorado has done with its recent shift to nearly all mail balloting.
He also said he plans to suggest the commission consider encouraging membership in ERIC, which stands for Electronic Registration Information Center and is a voluntary association of 21 states that share voter data to determine whether people might be registered to vote in more than one state.
Critics of the commission have said they’re alarmed by numerous statements made by Trump and Kobach claiming the country’s electoral system is plagued with massive voter fraud, including charges that millions voted illegally in the last election.
“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally,” Trump tweeted after the election.
“We fully condemn actions taken today by the president’s Election Integrity Commission seeking disclosure of data and personal information on virtually every voter across the country,” said Kristen Clarke, executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law in a statement. “This meritless Inquisition opens the door for a misguided and ill-advised commission to take steps to target and harass voters.”