Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and vice chairman of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, is attempting to create a federalized voter database of unprecedented scope, and that effort must be resisted.
If completed, this national database would carry the full names, birth dates, party registration, partial Social Security numbers, felony convictions, military status and 10-year voting history for an estimated 200 million American voters.
Much to their credit, Democratic and Republican officials in more than 40 states — including Minnesota — have either rejected Kobach’s request altogether or said they will not fully comply. The response from Republican Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann was particularly tart: “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great State to launch from,” Hosemann said, citing “our State’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.” Similarly, Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, said her state would not “aid a commission that is at best a waste of taxpayer money and at worst an effort to legitimize voter suppression efforts across the country.”
And while this commission is born of the discredited claim by Trump that “millions” of illegally cast ballots cost him the popular vote, this attempt should not be dismissed merely as his continuing obsession with his electoral win. Why does an analysis on voter integrity require party preference? Or a 10-year lookback on individual voting histories? Kobach already has said he wants to cross-reference the information against federal databases on immigrants and permanent residents, and that may not be all of it.
Little is known about the full extent of what the commission would do with the information. Kobach’s letter notes that information it obtains will be made public. He quickly walked that statement back, given the furor it set off, but it remains part of his official request. Infuriated by state resistance, Kobach has hinted that while he cannot legally compel compliance, the Justice Department might. These are the kind of tactics that should set off alarm bells for every American.
Republicans have been hawking the shibboleth of rampant voter fraud for years now, without actual evidence of its existence. Mostly it’s become a justification for an unconscionable degree of voter suppression. An attempt to impose photo ID requirements in Minnesota was soundly rejected by voters here, but voters in other states have faced narrowed voting windows, vigilante election monitors, closure of some polling places and other restrictions.
If Vice President Mike Pence and Kobach want to improve voter integrity in this country, we would direct them to the recently released Brennan Center for Justice report on “Securing Elections from Foreign Interference.” The report zeros in on two of the most critical elements of this country’s election infrastructure: improved voting machines that have paper trails and more secure voter registration databases. After a decade of study, it looks at actual vulnerabilities in the election system and what should be done — soon — to protect the next election.
The center cites national intelligence reports that found “Russian intelligence obtained and maintained access to elements of multiple … state or local electoral boards.” In Illinois, cyberintruders attempted to delete or alter the voter registration database. Top U.S. intelligence officials say more is coming.
This is the clear and present danger that warrants immediate action by Congress, not some invasive and costly chase for imaginary voter fraud that could easily become an excuse to wipe certain voters from the rolls.