The vice chairman of President Trump’s new voter integrity commission says Democrats’ resistance is “idiotic,” and questioned why they were so intent on thwarting the work of a panel designed to look at barriers to voting and how widespread fraud is in the U.S. system.
Kris Kobach, who is also secretary of state in Kansas, fired back after a growing number of Democratic governors and election officials across the country said they would refuse to comply with a request he sent late last week asking for each state’s set of voter data, including names, addresses, dates of birth, voting history, party registration, military service and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.
Mr. Trump added his voice to the criticism Saturday by calling the panel — led by Vice President Mike Pence and Mr. Kobach — “very distinguished” and by questioning the motives of the resistance.
“What are they trying to hide?” he tweeted.
Mr. Kobach calls the information he is seeking basic public information — and, indeed, many states sell their voter data to political parties, candidates, researchers, nonprofits and even the general public.
“It’s idiotic,” Mr. Kobach told The Washington Times. “These states make the information available to the public, but they don’t want a presidential commission to take a serious look at it? That makes no sense at all.”
He said the commission wants the information so it can run names against each other and against several federal databases.
Checking the lists would help elucidate how many people are registered in multiple places, while the federal databases would help identify names on the rolls who are noncitizens or who have died, according to the government’s Death Master File — the Social Security Administration’s repository.
Mr. Kobach’s request letter also asked states to provide details about their voting and registration laws.
Immediately after the letter was sent, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, announced he wouldn’t comply. Secretaries of state from a number of other states followed suit.
“I have no intention of honoring this request. Virginia conducts fair, honest and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud in Virginia,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “At best, this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.”
Mr. Kobach pointed out that Mr. McAuliffe announced his resistance just days after prosecutors in the state got a guilty plea out of a 21-year-old student at James Madison University who worked for Democrats last year and who admitted to registering 18 dead people to vote.
Still, Mr. Trump and Mr. Kobach’s involvement has poisoned the effort for many.
The League of Women Voters said Mr. Kobach is “not interested in facts, but false accusations and dangerous policy recommendations.”
Common Cause, another advocacy group, questioned the validity of the Homeland Security citizenship database — which is used to verify eligibility for welfare benefits — saying it isn’t accurate to use for voter purposes. The group also said checking lists for duplicate names across the states is a pretext for arming states to cull their voter rolls.
The Congressional Black Caucus said asking for the data could break privacy rules, and Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, demanded that the commission explain more about its operations. She said it had no legal basis for making its request.
Ms. Feinstein also praised California Secretary of State Alex Padilla for refusing to turn over the state’s data.
Democrats have publicly blamed their catastrophic election losses last year in part on tighter voter screens, saying their supporters are being hindered from casting ballots. The president’s commission is supposed to look at those claims as well as voter fraud.
But Democrats fear the commission will end up trying to support Mr. Trump’s claims of massive fraud, which he says cost him the popular vote victory — even though he legitimately won the White House thanks to the Electoral College.
Mr. Kobach says getting the data he wants shouldn’t be difficult — though he declined to say whether he would use other methods besides the request letters to obtain the information.
“It’s publicly available information. Any person on the street can walk into a county election office and get it. This is not information that is supersensitive,” he said.
State officials disagreed.
Sam Coleman, a spokesman for Mr. McAuliffe, said Virginia considers Social Security numbers, addresses, dates of birth, political affiliation and voting history to be sensitive information that is not available under state open records laws.
“In addition to violating the privacy of Virginia voters, Gov. McAuliffe believes that the commission was created on a pretense to placate the ego of the president and increase voter disenfranchisement,” Mr. Coleman said.
Voter integrity groups said states already either sell or give away the kind of information the commission is seeking.
Virginia’s Department of Elections already sells names, addresses, dates of birth, sex, voting history and even the last date of registration with voting officials. Partial Social Security numbers, however, are not listed.
The department says candidates, political parties, political action committees, nonprofits that engage in voter participation and even members of the public who want to communicate with voters can all buy the information.
Virginia is one of a relatively small number of states that demand a voter’s full Social Security number when registering to vote.
Other states — including Kansas, under Mr. Kobach — ask for just the last four digits or make providing Social Security information optional. Nearly every state redacts the number from publicly released data.
Almost every state collects date of birth, but some redact that data too before releasing anything to the public.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation, which has been pursuing records of voter fraud in Virginia and released a report last month on noncitizens on the state’s books, said they had to fight for disclosure.
“McAuliffe has never been big on transparency. We went to federal court three times because he hides evidence of election crimes,” said J. Christian Adams, president of the foundation.