Civil Liberties

The Trump Administration’s Voter-Suppression Plans Are Backfiring Badly

In an unprecedented show of bipartisan resistance, 45 states are refusing to hand over private voter data to Kris Kobach.

Trump’s Voter-Suppression Plans Are Backfiring

Kris Kobach's "election integrity" commission is never going to be able to prove that millions of people voted illegally because that never happened, writes Ari Berman. (Photo by Geoff Marshall via RachelH_ | Flickr CC 2.0)

This post originally appeared at The Nation.

On June 28, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chair of Donald Trump’s presidential commission on “election integrity,” sent a letter to all 50 states requesting sweeping voter data, including Social Security numbers, party affiliation, criminal backgrounds and military history.

At first, only a few states, like California, Kentucky and Virginia said no, denouncing the commission as “a waste of taxpayer money and a distraction from the real threats to the integrity of our elections today.” But over the holiday weekend, opposition to Kobach’s request dramatically increased from both red and blue states. As of Wednesday morning, 45 states have refused to turn over private voter data to Trump’s commission. “I’ve been studying America’s election administration since 2000, and I’ve rarely seen a firestorm like this,” wrote MIT political scientist Charles Stewart III.

Twenty states are refusing to give Kobach any data and 25 states are handing over only limited public information on voters, according to CNN (a full list of the states appears below). Even Kobach couldn’t hand over Social Security numbers to himself because they’re not publicly available in Kansas. Six states have not yet responded.

Most notable is the strong opposition from Republican secretaries of state from red states like Mississippi, Louisiana and Arizona. Mississippi’s Delbert Hosemann told Trump and Kobach to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico”; Louisiana’s Tom Schedler said “the president’s commission has quickly politicized its work by asking states for an incredible amount of voter data that I have, time and time again, refused to release”; Arizona’s Michele Reagan blasted “this hastily organized experiment.”

Also notable is the opposition from members of Trump’s own election commission, like Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson, who said, “Indiana law doesn’t permit the secretary of state to provide the personal information requested by Secretary Kobach,” and Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap, who told Kobach, “Upon review, the request is denied.” One member of the commission, Maryland Deputy Secretary of State Luis Borunda, has already resigned.

The outpouring of bipartisan opposition shows why Trump’s sham election commission should be disbanded before it does any more damage. The commission was set up for one purpose — to spread false information about voter fraud, like Trump’s gigantic lie that millions of people voted illegally, in order to build support for policies that make it more difficult to vote. Kobach and his ilk have long advocated for suppressive policies like strict voter-ID laws, documentary proof of citizenship for voter registration and voter purges, along with weakening landmark voting-rights laws like the Voting Rights Act and National Voter Registration Act.

The commission was never going to be able to prove that millions of people voted illegally because that never happened. At most, there were a few hundred illegal votes cast in 2016. Even if this was a good-faith effort to study America’s election system, the commission won’t have access to reliable data after so many states rebelled against Kobach’s request. “Most likely, the results of low-quality matches using the voter files that do arrive will significantly overstate the amount of double voting and voting by noncitizens,” writes Charles Stewart in Politico. “If a poor match occurs, the list maintenance programs of the states will be unfairly impugned, lowering the confidence of voters for no good reason. This is why no one I have talked to who runs elections, Democrat or Republican, is happy with Kobach’s request.”

Representative Marc Veasey, co-chair of the Congressional Voting Rights Caucus, has introduced legislation to ensure that no taxpayer funds are spent on Trump’s commission. “The commission’s mission to study non-existent voter fraud cases has nothing to do with ballot security and everything to do with voter suppression and discrimination,” he said.

We need a commission to investigate the impact of Russian hacking and voter suppression on the 2016 election. We don’t need a disgraced commission on election integrity that only threatens the integrity of our elections.


States that won’t comply with Kobach’s request:

  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Delaware
  • Kentucky
  • Louisiana
  • Maine
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Minnesota
  • Mississippi
  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • Pennsylvania
  • South Dakota
  • Tennessee
  • Vermont
  • Virginia
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

States that will hand over only select public voter data:

  • Alabama
  • Alaska
  • Arizona
  • Colorado
  • Georgia
  • Idaho
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Kansas
  • Michigan
  • Missouri
  • Montana
  • Nevada
  • New Hampshire
  • North Carolina
  • North Dakota
  • Ohio
  • Oklahoma
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • South Carolina
  • Texas
  • Utah
  • Washington
  • West Virginia

States that haven’t responded yet:

  • Arkansas
  • Florida
  • Hawaii
  • Illinois
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey

Ari Berman

Ari Berman is a senior reporter for Mother Jones, where he covers voting rights. Previously he was a senior contributing writer for The Nation magazine and a fellow at The Nation Institute. His second book, Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, was published in August 2015 by Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. Follow him on Twitter: @AriBerman.