In his capacity as vice chair of President Trump’s so-called “Election Integrity” Commission, Kansas Secretary of State and noted vote suppressor Kris Kobach sent a letter to all 50 states asking them to hand over a wealth of personal information about their state’s registered voters, including names and addresses, party affiliations, and the last four digits of social security numbers. The request inspired a rare moment of bipartisanship, with at least 44 states refusing to fully comply with Kobach’s request.
(UPDATE: The Commission has since sent revised requests to the states, and Secretary of State Michele Reagan has sought legal counsel on how to respond to this latest round of requests.)
Although it received less attention that the information requests, the letter also included a list of seven questions seeking states’ input on the Commission’s work. We decided to answer those questions.
1. What changes, if any, to federal election laws would you recommend to enhance the integrity of elections?
Restore the Voting Rights Act (“VRA”). Since the Supreme Court’s decision to gut the VRA’s preclearance process in Shelby County v. Holder, many states with histories of discriminatory election practices have returned to their old ways. States like North Carolina and Texas (both previously subject to preclearance) have enacted laws undoing online registration, same-day registration, early and weekend voting, and pre-registration for teens about to turn 18. Restoration of the full VRA is necessary to protect our democracy from further attack.
Next, we must update our antiquated system of opt-in voter registration, which results in millions of eligible voters across the country being left unregistered or with outdated registration records. According to Harvard researcher Charles Stewart, registration problems resulted in 2.5 million voters being unable to vote in the 2014 midterm elections. We therefore recommend a federal law providing for the nationwide implementation of Automatic Voter Registration (“AVR”), a system in which eligible citizens are automatically registered to vote. In addition to removing a simple barrier for voters, switching to an opt-out system that relies on verified state records would reduce the chances of ineligible voters being put on the rolls.
2. How can the Commission support state and local election administrators with regard to information technology security and vulnerabilities?
Perhaps the greatest support the Commission can lend regarding information technology security would be to immediately cease their requests for voters’ personal identification information. Experts warn the Commission’s request would “lay bare a valuable cache of information that cyber criminals could use for identity theft scams — or that foreign spies could leverage for disinformation schemes.”
Additionally, the Commission should oppose congressional efforts to eliminate the Election Assistance Commission (“EAC”), the only federal agency tasked exclusively with supporting state and local election administrators. In the run-up to the 2016 election, Secretary of State Michele Reagan cited the EAC’s equipment certification process as an important reason for confidence in our electoral process. Maricopa County Recorder Adrian Fontes has called the EAC an “indispensable resource.” Preeminent elections scholar Rick Hasen has said eliminating the Commission would be a “tremendous mistake.” Secretary Reagan, Recorder Fontes, and Professor Hasen are correct — we must not lose the EAC.
3. What laws, policies, or other issues hinder your ability to ensure the integrity of the elections you administer?
Arizona is one of 33 states that currently participate in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program (“Crosscheck”). Ostensibly, that system — which is run out of Kobach’s office in Kansas — is supposed to identify voters who are registered in multiple states. However, it does so using very limited criteria such as comparing names and birthdates, results in astronomical rates of false positives. A recent study found the program’s “purging strategy would eliminate about 200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one registration used to cast a double vote.” The Commission should encourage states to stop participating in Crosscheck, and to instead join the far superior system run by the non-profit Electronic Registration Information Center (“ERIC”).
4. What evidence or information do you have regarding instances of voter fraud or registration in your state?
Our election officials — of both parties — have made it clear that there is no evidence of widespread voter fraud in Arizona.
5. What convictions for election-related crimes have occurred in your state since the November 2000 federal election?
Over the past decade, the Arizona Attorney General’s office has prosecuted a mere 22 voter fraud cases (roughly two per year). None involved non-citizen voting.
6. What recommendations do you have for preventing voter intimidation or disenfranchisement?
President Trump must stop making wild and fabricated claims of widespread voter fraud, because his words have real-world impact on our rights as citizens. In New Hampshire — a state Trump has specifically mentioned in his lies — legislators recently passed a law restricting citizens’ ability to register to vote, and including a provision calling for state agents to visit voters at their homes to verify their addresses. Here in Arizona, we have seen repeated attempts to disenfranchise college students so they will not “unfairly influence” local elections in the communities where they live.
These unnecessary and likely unconstitutional barriers to voter registration not only carry the spirit of the Jim Crow grandfather clause and literacy tests, they portend the same result: eligible citizens will have the most basic democratic right unjustly stripped away, and our communities will not be accurately represented at the ballot box.
7. What other issues do you believe the Commission should consider?
We ask the Commission to demand the White House immediately cease the publication of personal information of individuals who contact the Commission with their concerns. This practice opens these individuals to harassment and identity theft, and may discourage citizen dissent.
Given the President’s own remarks on the purpose of the Commission, it is clear the Commission is not concerned with enhancing election integrity and security, and exists only to sow fear and doubt about the foundation of our democracy. If the Commission insists on playing that role, the best thing it can do is to permanently disband.