Vice-president Mike Pence and Kansas secretary of state Kris Kobach’s “Presidential Commission on Election Integrity” must be onto something pretty big if it’s requesting voter data from every state in the country.
In a letter sent to states Thursday, the commission’s vice-chair, Kris Kobach, said he wants it all–Social Security numbers, party affiliations, voting records, criminal histories, military statuses. That way he and his cronies will be able to root out any potential scofflaws contemplating prison time for the golden opportunity of voting more than once.
After all, President Donald Trump is absolutely, unfailingly convinced he only lost the popular vote because of “millions of people voting illegally,” despite evidence to the contrary.
Alex Padilla, California’s elections chief, called the commission:
“A waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today: aging voting systems and documented Russian interference in our elections.”
He stated President Trump’s “election integrity” commission:
“Would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud.”
Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D), 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.”
Ironically, even Kansas, where Kris Kobach as secretary of state is responsible for maintaining voting data and compliance regulations, said it could not fully comply with the request because state law prohibits releasing even voters’ partial social security numbers.
Ohio secretary of state Jon Husted (R) insisted his state ran clean, fair elections, and did not experience issues with fraud.
Myrna Perez, director of the voting rights and elections project center at New York University’s Brennan Center, argued:
“If they were serious about improving integrity in our elections, they would be talking about providing resources so our voting machines and voter registration databases are safe from hacking. They would be talking about an automatic voter registration system that was expansive and thoughtfully designed.”
Kris Kobach engineered scores of voter suppression laws and proposals that courts struck down, including a proof-of-citizenship requirement for voter registration in Kansas. At one point, he was threatened to be held in contempt-of-court for allegedly refusing to comply with a court order against it. He also helped craft Arizona’s SB 1070, aka “show me your papers” law. While at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush, he created the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS), which functioned as a registry for Muslim men entering the U.S. After Trump was elected, Kobach floated the idea of revising the program.
Arguably the most insidious high-tech voter suppression scheme Republican-led states are practicing today is Kobach’s “Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program.”
In 2013, Kobach boasted his Crosscheck system uncovered 697, 537 “potential duplicate voters” in fifteen states. Those “potential duplicate voters” are listed by first and last names only on the supposition they are running around from state to state on election day casting multiple ballots. Everyone with that first and last name is kicked off subsequent nationwide voter roles irrespective of other identifying information, such as Social Security numbers, addresses, or birth dates.
“The Crosscheck list disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters – with some of the biggest possible purges underway in Ohio and North Carolina, two crucial swing states with tight Senate races.”
For example, Donald Alexander Webster Jr., of Dayton, Ohio appears on the Crosscheck list a second time as Donald Eugene Webster from Charlottesville, Virginia. James Evans Johnson is listed the same as James P. Johnson. Palast reports one-fourth of the names on the list actually lack middle-name matches. The system can also mistakenly identify fathers and sons as the same voter, ignoring designations of Jr. and Sr. Hundreds of men named “James Brown” are suspected of voting or registering twice, 357 of them in Georgia alone.
Database expert Mark Swedlund examined the Crosscheck data. He found African-American, Latino, and Asian names dominate the Crosscheck list. With the name “Washington,” there is an 89 percent chance a person is African-American; “Hernandez,” a 94 percent chance he or she is Hispanic; “Kim,” a 95 percent chance he or she is Asian.
Kobach’s letter gives states only two weeks to respond to the request, and ignores privacy and confidentiality matters. In at least one case, the letter was addressed to the wrong state official, which Kobach’s critics interpret as another indication of the commission’s inefficiency.
Charles Stewart is an election expert and political science professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). He called the letter “naive” about voter list matching. About the letter’s apparent amateurishness, he said:
“[It] isn’t a whole lot different from requests … from graduate students and researchers just getting into the field.”
Kristen Clarke of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, labels Kobach’s letter a “meritless inquisition” and a precursor to voter harassment and disenfranchisement.
Russ Feingold, a former Democratic senator from Wisconsin, said:
“I would expect these actions from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or any of the other authoritarian regimes we have sanctioned around the world, regimes that stay in power by suppressing their people and manipulating election results. We must not lie to ourselves when we see the warning signs here at home.”
A federal conviction for voting illegally can result in five years in prison and a fine of $10,000 for each fraudulent act. Most states have their own additional penalties as well. Logically, if an individual is bent on crime, it is unlikely he or she would perpetrate it through voting more than once.
It’s encouraging that over half the states–and more surely to come–are seeing this for what it is, and not lining up at the top of a slippery slope.
Featured image from YouTube video.