Last week, Commission Vice Chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach sent a letter to chief election officials in every state that set off another round of manufactured, faux outrage and misleading headlines. What was in this letter that had everyone up in arms? A request for input from the states on a variety of election administration questions and suggestions about how the Commission could best help the states, and a request that the states provide already publicly available voter data.
Unlike previous presidential election commissions, this Commission is taking the unprecedented step of not only recognizing states’ primary role in administering and protecting the integrity of elections, but in also asking states how the Commission can be of help to them. Instead of taking a top-down (federal-to-state) approach, the Commission has given the states the opportunity to participate in the process and has asked for their input in recommending goals for the Commission. . . . The second part of the letter asks each state to provide “publicly available voter roll data for [your state], including, if publicly available under the laws of your state,” personal data typically recorded as part of a voter’s voter registration record. As stated twice in that short portion of the request, the Commission is requesting only publicly available voter registration data. . . .
Sadly—as has been far too common in recent months—the mainstream media’s reporting has twisted the letter into a threat by the Trump administration to gather and publish confidential information about every voter in the country. Headlines tout the states’ non-compliance with the letter, claiming that some 44 states plus the District of Columbia are refusing to provide the information requested by the Commission.
The truth is that 29 states are providing publicly available voter registration information, as determined by their state’s law, and just 18 states are not providing the data. This is hardly the massive, overwhelming resistance to the Commission portrayed in the media. And this is only part of the whole picture. State laws in Tennessee and North Dakota do not allow release of voter registration data to the Commission. Yet, these states are being portrayed by media as being non-compliant when, in fact, their hands are just tied by their own laws.