White House Commission Under Attack As It Calls For Individual Voters' Data
KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
A White House commission set up to look into voter fraud is being criticized on many fronts even before it has held its first meeting. Many states are refusing to share voter data with the panel. One of the 11 commissioners has already resigned, and several legal complaints have been filed challenging the commission's work. NPR's Pam Fessler's been following the story, and she's with us now. Hey, Pam.
PAM FESSLER, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So we've seen reports that at least 44 states so far refused to comply with the commission's request to provide detailed voter information. But then yesterday the commission's vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, said that most states either are complying or are considering complying. So who's right here?
FESSLER: Well, it depends on your definition of the word comply. Last week, the commission sent letters out asking states to give all their publicly available voter data to the panel such as names, dates of birth, partial Social Security numbers. About a dozen states refused outright. They raised concerns that the information might be misused. And other states said their laws don't allow them to send such sensitive data to Washington.
But about half the states said they would send what's already publicly available but that that information would be very limited. And Kobach says since the commission's only asking for what's publicly available, those states are complying. But I think it's very important to note that those states that are complying are doing so very reluctantly. I could not find any states that were very enthusiastic about supporting what Kobach wants to do, which is to look for evidence of voter fraud.
MCEVERS: And as I mentioned, one of the commissioners has already resigned. Who is that, and why?
FESSLER: Well, his name's Luis Borunda. He's deputy secretary of state in Maryland. He hasn't said publicly why he's left, but a White House spokesman told me yesterday that Borunda said he was worried that the workload would be too much with his current job. I should also note that a lot of eyebrows were raised when he was appointed to the panel because, like a lot of the commissioners, he has no experience in elections. In Maryland, those are not run by the secretary of state's office. And that's only added to the criticisms about what the panel might be up to.
MCEVERS: And as we've said, the commission is already in court defending itself against some legal challenges, right?
FESSLER: That's right. They've got these problems, too. There's one lawsuit that was filed on Monday by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. It claims that this request for voter data is violating federal privacy laws. There are also some complaints that Kobach is violating the Hatch Act by using his role on the commission to promote his candidacy for governor of Kansas. And others are worried about whether the commission is meeting open meetings laws and requirements. The administration disputes that it's violating any laws, but it's unclear, you know, what impact that's going to have.
MCEVERS: And this is a pretty long list of problems already. Is this commission going to be able to accomplish anything?
FESSLER: I don't know. I wouldn't say that this panel is imploding right now, but it appears that it's definitely headed in that direction if things don't change. Most election officials - Democrats and Republicans alike - have viewed the panel with a lot of skepticism right from the start. A lot of them think that it was set up to validate president Trump's allegations of widespread voter fraud. And they think there are a lot more serious problems that need to be dealt with, including aging voting equipment and the potential for hacking of U.S. elections by Russia or somebody else. And it's not clear that the commission will deal with any of those issues.
MCEVERS: NPR's Pam Fessler, thanks.
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