- The Washington Times - Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Despite reports to the contrary, most states appear ready to cooperate to some extent with President Trump’s voter integrity commission, the panel’s vice chairman said Wednesday as the administration began to mount its defense against a feverish backlash from state election officials.

Kris Kobach, the vice chairman, blasted what he called “fake news” headlines claiming more than 40 states were resisting his request for voter information.

Mr. Kobach and the Justice Department also filed court papers blasting a lawsuit aimed at derailing the panel. The papers said the courts have never found a constitutional right to “informational privacy” that would shield otherwise public data from being shared with other government agencies.

The panel sent a request to all 50 states and the District of Columbia last week asking them to provide a list of voters’ names, addresses, partial Social Security numbers, voter history, military status and records of felony convictions. He said only information that is public record needs to be submitted.

But the letter touched off a firestorm among Trump critics who fear the panel will discover evidence of massive fraud, justifying the president’s claims in the wake of the November election. Democratic and Republican elections officials have said they worry about turning over sensitive data.

Mr. Kobach said the resistance is much lower than some critics are making it out to be. He was particularly miffed by headlines on news networks CNN and MSNBC that said at least 44 states were refusing to comply.

A CNN report said 19 states “openly criticized” Mr. Kobach’s request. The NBC News report under that MSNBC headline said 17 states are “flat-out refusing” to comply, while another 28 states would hand over only public information.

Mr. Kobach called the headlines “fake news.”

“At present, 20 states have agreed to provide the publicly available information requested by the commission and another 16 states are reviewing which information can be released under their state laws,” he said in a statement released by the White House.

“In all, 36 states have either agreed or are considering participating with the commission’s work to ensure the integrity of the American electoral system,” said Mr. Kobach, who is also secretary of state in Kansas.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center has gone to court with an emergency lawsuit trying to stop the data sweep.

The advocacy group argued that the email address and file-sharing systems used by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to collect the data aren’t secure enough. It said the commission is breaking the Administrative Procedure Act and the E-Government Act and risks giving scammers a road map for identity theft.

In court filings, Mr. Kobach and the Justice Department said they are seeking only information that officials are allowed to make public under their state laws and that there is no national right to withhold it.

“Because the commission has only requested public information from the states, EPIC could never show that a constitutional right to informational privacy — even if it were to exist — has been violated,” the attorneys said in their filing.

In his declaration, Mr. Kobach said he doesn’t plan to release any voters’ personal identifiable information.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has fast-tracked the lawsuit in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, was one of the first last week to announce he would refuse to cooperate, and he said Wednesday that he is holding firm despite Mr. Kobach’s clarifications.

“We’re not taking Virginians’ personal data and handing it over,” he told MSNBC. “We do not have voter fraud in the commonwealth of Virginia. It doesn’t exist in America. Get over it.”

He said he is worried about Mr. Kobach’s role in the commission and pointed to cases in which the Kansas secretary of state has fought tighter voter registration screenings in his state. Courts have turned back some of his efforts.

While Mr. McAuliffe is refusing to provide information, the state is happy to sell much of it.

The Virginia Department of Elections says it sells lists of all registered voters and lists of voters’ history, including full names, mailing addresses, genders, dates of birth, registration dates, last communications from elections officials and even whether they voted in person or absentee.

Those who can buy the information include state and federal courts, which use it for jury pools, political parties or campaigns, political action committees, nonprofit organizations that work on voter participation and even members of the public looking to urge voter registration.

The Democratic National Committee has created its own commission to try to foil the Trump panel. It has promised its own events to coincide with the July 19 inaugural meeting of the presidential commission.

“President Trump clearly formed this commission to find a way to fake evidence to prove his lie about illegal voting in the 2016 election and invent an excuse to make it harder for eligible voters to vote in America in 2020,” said Jason Kander, a former Missouri secretary of state who is leading the DNC’s effort.

But the man who succeeded him as secretary in Missouri, Jay Ashcroft, defended cooperation with Mr. Kobach and the commission. He said he saw no problem turning over data that the state already makes public.

“They want public information that the state has about voters. In the letter, they asked for the public information that may include and then they list several factors,” Mr. Ashcroft said on CNN earlier Wednesday. “We are just going to release that publicly available information.”

He said Missouri has instances of fraud that he would like to eliminate ahead of the next election cycle.

He said he saw no problem in looking at the situation and evaluating whether there is, in fact, a national problem that needs attention. He said the commission could reach that answer.

“Why don’t we do this well and put this to rest? Either we have a problem with it or we don’t. Let’s find out,” he said.

Sally Persons contributed to this report.

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