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Brennan Center and Protect Democracy File Suit to Make “Voter Fraud” Commission Records Public

The organizations filed suit after their requests to the agencies for information under the Freedom of Information Act went unanswered.

August 21, 2017

New York, NY – The Bren­nan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law and Protect Demo­cracy filed a lawsuit today in federal court in New York to compel the Depart­ment of Justice, the Depart­ment of Home­land Secur­ity, and the Office of Manage­ment and Budget to disclose inform­a­tion to which the public is entitled pertain­ing to the pres­id­ent’s “Elec­tion Integ­rity” Commis­sion. The organ­iz­a­tions filed suit after their requests to the agen­cies for inform­a­tion under the Free­dom of Inform­a­tion Act went unanswered.
 
The Commis­sion has had its motives and work ques­tioned since it was launched in May, after the pres­id­ent made unfoun­ded claims that voter fraud and noncit­izen voting were rampant in the 2016 elec­tion. It is co-chaired by Vice Pres­id­ent Mike Pence and Kansas Secret­ary of State Kris Kobach, who has a long history of support­ing — and imple­ment­ing — anti-voter policies.
 
Plaintiffs argue in today’s filing that the public is legally entitled to inform­a­tion about the Commis­sion, which has released very few details about its oper­a­tions, meth­ods, or inten­tions. Even commis­sion­ers them­selves are being left in the dark. Maine Secret­ary of State Matthew Dunlap, a member of the panel, said commis­sion­ers had not discussed the second request for voter data before it was sent to all 50 states.
 
Voters deserve to know how the Commis­sion was put together, what its goals are, whether it has been comply­ing with legal require­ments, and how it will use the detailed personal inform­a­tion it has reques­ted from local elec­tion offi­cials. In their free­dom of inform­a­tion requests, plaintiffs had reques­ted all commu­nic­a­tions and docu­ments relat­ing to the commis­sion and its members, or any similar effort to estab­lish a body to study voter fraud. Plaintiffs now ask the court to order the govern­ment to search for and produce the records to which they are entitled by specified date.
 
“This admin­is­tra­tion has a troub­ling pattern of keep­ing public inform­a­tion from the public — a pattern that is continu­ing with this commis­sion,” said Wendy Weiser, director of the Bren­nan Center’s Demo­cracy Program. “The govern­ment’s oblig­a­tion to share this inform­a­tion is espe­cially import­ant when there are so many reas­ons to be skep­tical of this commis­sion. When the public is not able to over­see the work of a pres­id­en­tial panel like this, there is a risk of abuse, which could negat­ively impact voting rights across the coun­try.”
 
“Pres­id­ent Trump’s elec­tion commis­sion was foun­ded on a false premise about our coun­try’s elec­tion systems,” said Larry Schwartztol, an attor­ney with Protect Demo­cracy. “If the commis­sion is being run in order to advance a mislead­ing narrat­ive about voter fraud, it threatens to under­mine fair access to our demo­cracy. When the stakes are that high, ensur­ing trans­par­ency is a crit­ical safe­guard.” 
 
Without an open process the public cannot provide informed comments to the Commis­sion or trust the integ­rity of its work, which will include making recom­mend­a­tions to the pres­id­ent pertain­ing to federal elec­tions and the most funda­mental right in Amer­ican demo­cracy — the right to vote. 
 

For more inform­a­tion on the Commis­sion, the inform­a­tion requests, or to sched­ule an inter­view with Bren­nan Center experts, please contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646–292–8316.
 
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