Brennan Center to States: Examine Legal Obligations Before Providing Voters’ Personal Information to White House

June 29, 2017

New York, N.Y. - Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s letter requesting extensive personal information on American voters threatens to violate individual privacy and further justifies concerns that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity — which he vice-chairs — was conceived to drive voter suppression efforts.
 
Kobach’s letter, reportedly sent to every Secretary of State in the country, asked for extensive details including: “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” His letter also stated that “any documents submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the general public.”
 
While every state makes some information from its voter rolls publicly available, obtaining that information typically involves a specific request process and payment, creating a paper trail and ensuring that voters’ personal data is not widely accessible. Additionally, a large number of states impose restrictions on the use or disclosure of information from the voter files, and even impose penalties for improper usage. But Kobach’s request upends state procedures and would make an unprecedented amount of information about individual voters publicly available in one location. The request has already been harshly criticized by state election officials and civil rights organizations, some of whom have raised concerns that the information could also be used to keep eligible voters from the polls.
 
“Secretaries of States need to have frank conversations with their lawyers about the privacy and other implications of complying with Kobach’s extensive request,” said Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “Voters trust that states will safeguard their information when they register to vote, and to break that bond could damage voters’ confidence and their rights.” 
 
“It is now crystal clear that there are plenty of external actors, including Russia, trying to get information about American voters and undermine confidence in our elections,” said Wendy R. Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program. “The last thing we need is someone working for the White House handing it to them on a silver platter. A public database of all American voters would not secure the ‘integrity’ of our elections as Kobach and the commission claim they want to do. It would make us more vulnerable. We don’t need to undermine Americans’ privacy; we need to take immediate steps to safeguard our elections from foreign interference by upgrading our election infrastructure.” 
 
To see the Brennan Center’s resource page on the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, click here. And click here to read the Brennan Center’s new report, Securing Elections From Foreign Interference.  

To connect with a Brennan Center expert for an interview, contact Rebecca Autrey at rebecca.autrey@nyu.edu or 646-292-8316.

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