On August 21, 2017 the Brennan Center and Protect Democracy filed a federal lawsuit in New York to compel the Department of Justice, Department of Homeland Security, General Services Administration, 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 under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) went unanswered.
President Trump launched the Commission in May 2017, following months of unfounded claims that voter fraud and noncitizen voting were rampant in the 2016 election. Vice President Mike Pence was the Commission’s chair, and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach — a known promoter of voting restrictions and the myth of voter fraud — was the vice chair.
The Commission met in-person for the first time on July 19. Prior to this meeting, Kobach sent letters to chief state election officials requesting they submit “publicly-available data from state voter rolls.” Twenty-one states declined to provide any data, citing legal restrictions, privacy concerns, and uncertainty about how the information would be used.
Following numerous lawsuits and controversies, President Donald Trump disbanded the Commission on January 3, 2018. After the Commission disbanded, and news reports indicated that DHS would continue the Commission’s efforts, plaintiffs filed additional FOIA requests to determine the extent of these efforts. Subsequently, plaintiffs filed a motion to compel the Court to require these agencies produce documents responsive to their requests. On April 30, 2019, the Court granted that motion, entering partial summary judgment in favor of the Brennan Center and Protect Democracy. The Court ordered DHS and OMB to widen their searches, as well as search the personal emails of two DOJ officials and relevant others.
The Brennan Center and Protect Democracy argue that the public is legally entitled to information about the Commission, which has released very few details about its operations, methods, or intentions. In their FOIAs, 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.