“The Commission is putting at risk the privacy of millions of registered voters.”
A federal judge on Monday refused to block President Donald Trump’s advisory panel from demanding that the states hand over their registered voters’ full names, political affiliations, addresses, dates of birth, criminal records, the last four digits of their Social Security numbers, and other personal identifying information, including whether they voted in elections the past decade.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which wants to make the data public, has been met with stiff resistance, including from at least 44 states which say they cannot comply with the complete demand because laws in their individual states prohibit them from doing so.
But in a lawsuit from the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), which challenged the demand on privacy and other grounds, US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly of the District of Columbia said Trump’s commission is exempt from the usual requirement that agencies consider privacy impacts of their new databases. She said the commission—which at Trump’s urging wants to study voting irregularities such as whether dead people have been voting—is not an agency. Therefore, it is exempt from a 2002 law requiring a privacy impact statement for newly created government data systems.
What’s more, Judge Kollar-Kotelly ruled that “The mere risk of disclosure stemming from the collection and eventual, anonymized disclosure of already publicly available voter roll information” is not enough to get her to block the commission.
The judge limited the commission to collecting only what each state could provide according to its own privacy laws.
“Defendants have represented that they are only collecting voter information that is already publicly available under the laws of the states where the information resides; and Defendants have clarified that such information, to the extent it is made public, will be de-identified. All of these representations were made to the Court in sworn declarations, and needless to say, the Court expects that Defendants shall strictly abide by them,” she wrote. (PDF)
Kris Kobach, a Republican who is the Kansas secretary of state and vice-chair of the commission, said the decision was “a major victory for government accountability, transparency, and the public’s right to know about the integrity of our elections processes.”
As many as 44 states have said they couldn’t provide all of the data the commission had asked for, saying they could, at most, only give what their individual laws allow.
Trump signed an executive order creating the election commission in May. He has claimed there was voter fraud on a massive scale during the 2016 election. Trump alleged that millions of votes were cast illegally.
“The Commission is putting at risk the privacy of millions of registered voters, including military families and victims of stalking, whose home addresses would be revealed,” EPIC said.
Two weeks ago, the commission said it would cease its demands for the data on 150 million registered voters pending the judge’s ruling.
We’ll keep you posted as this issue progresses. Other lawsuits are also seeking to thwart the commission’s data requests.