As residents and organizations across America question the methods and legitimacy of a federal commission seemingly set up to placate the President, a spokesman for the New York State Board of Elections (BOE) said last week the agency stands by its decision to provide Trump with residents’ voter information.
Why this is even a thing?
The Commission on Election Integrity (CEI) was formed to investigate supposed voter fraud – though many speculate it might have more to do with how President Donald Trump was irked by the fact Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by around three million. This is because, well, because he wouldn’t shut up about it.
Beyond all that not being true, the data not only shows that instances of voter fraud are few and far between, but when it does happen, it’s hardly on a scale that necessitates a federal investigatory commission.
Regardless, in July, the commission chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State/gubernatorial candidate Kris Kobach (a jackwagon in his own right), held its first meeting and soon afterwards announced intentions to compel the states to release voter data.
This was outlined in a letter Kobach sent to states requesting they submit information including but not limited to, names, addresses, partial social security numbers, party affiliation and voting history.
An EPIC lawsuit
To be fair, Kobach’s letter requested, any and all “publicly available voter roll data” which is “publicly available under the laws of your state,” a request which seems reasonable.
Some, however, like the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC) have serious concerns about voters’ rights and the Commission’s request to collect their information.
In fact, EPIC has 51 reasons for why this whole thing is a bad idea, but main concerns relate to how the Commission failed to look into what specific information it was allowed to collect in the first place. The group also says its wary about just how secure data collection and data storage is on the government’s end.
In addition to EPIC, six other organizations have filed lawsuits.
New York resists
Initially New York, like most of the country, told Kobach and his witch hunters to kindly piss right off by either partially or flat out denying the request. Among the most vocal dissenters was Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
“We will not be complying with this request,” Cuomo said at the time. “I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud.”
But this month, residents learned New York’s BOE had decided to comply with the request and learned something that looks a lot like this was sent to the Commission, save for social security information and criminal history. The reason?
“We had no lawful reason to deny it,” BOE spokesman John Conklin said.
The Commission had apparently looked at New York’s open record laws regarding voter information and amended its request asking instead for publicly-available voter information that had be provided to those who asked for it in the past.
Y’all really have to do that?
Following the BOE’s decision to comply, New York State Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie wrote them a letter outlining something that he thought should have been obvious to the board. He notes section 3-103 (5) of the state’s Election Law which reads, in part:
“The information contained in the statewide voter registration list shall not be used for non-election purposes.”
Kristin O’Neill, Assistant Director of the state’s Committee on Open Government, said last week under the state’s Freedom of Information Law (FOIL), most records are public information, unless they are,”made confidential by statute.”
Well, if Election Law says voter records can’t be used for non-election purposes, who makes that decision?
“That’s sort of subjective,” O’Neill said, ”and it’s not for me to say, it’s for the Board of Elections to say because it’s their law to interpret.”
Conklin seemed to agree with O’Neill’s assessment.
“The ‘elections purpose’ requirement has always been interpreted liberally,” he said. “Once the Presidential Commission made the attestation that they were using the information for an elections purpose there was no debate.”
Did it, though?
In the past, Kobach himself has said, “The Commission is not to prove or disprove what the President speculated about in January,” referring to Trump’s unfounded claim that over five million people may have voted illegally in 2016.
He also told NPR that, “The reason we’re requesting it is to understand issues of voter registration fraud and things like that.”
This leads some like Heastie to believe since the Commission co-chair said their work had NO relation to the 2016 election and NO relation to any election in general, at least under New York state law, there was NO reason the state’s Board of Elections should’ve felt compelled to provide the information.
Then there’s the fact that even the co-chairs don’t even know what the hell their job is. A piece put out by Dartunorro Clark at NBC News notes while Kobach is focused on the voter fraud, Vice President Pence seems to think his job is to make the overall election process better.
Either way, Conklin said he didn’t get Heastie’s argument, adding the board stands by its interpretation of state Election Law and its decision.
Conklin also said he expects more officials across the country will eventually give the Commission what they want.
“I didn’t understand his point at all,” he said. “I have never heard that argument be made by anyone. I think most of the general public has the view that their voter registration information is private. This is simply not true, and it is not true in most places. I think you will see more states comply with this request. You cannot deny a FOIL (Freedom of Information Law) request just because you don’t like the requestor.”
Additionally, Conklin was asked if there were any assurances given to the Board by the Commission that there would be the secure transfer and storage of voter information being requested.
“Voter Registration data is by statutory definition a public record [and] we can’t impose conditions on requestors that don’t exist in statute,” Conklin said. “That’s how you create lawsuits. We did not ask for those conditions but the Commission did assert the information would be safely stored.”
But some people feel the act aggregating all of the data into one place is a hackers delight as all of this information will be in one place as opposed to on systems and servers spread across the country. Good thing no one’s been attempting to hack into our election systems….
It appears the law is on the side of the state BOE, so residents shouldn’t expect any type of action taken against it or its members.
Elsewhere in the country, twenty six other states plan on charging the commission anywhere from $23 to $32,000 in fees for providing voter data. Six states: California, Kentucky, Minnesota, New Mexico and South Carolina, continue to resist. New Hampshire tried and failed while the rest of the nation complied.
In addition, in spite of the lawsuits, the Commission seems to be continuing with its work – whatever that is. Knowing the history of Kobach, Pence and the Republican Party in general, it’s likely the endgame is to depress voter turnout nationwide.
Not to mention former NSA Director Keith Alexander says the country is woefully unprepared for a large-scale cyber attack, so if the GOP’s plan fails, there’s not much that can be done should someone decide to hack your vote.
Admittedly, it’s hard to find the silver lining here. Unless the federal government decides to destroy all the data it has collected and countries around the world suddenly decide cyber attacks are off-limits, it looks like this scenario will end badly for New Yorkers, Americans and our democracy.
That is unless, of course, people are aware of the risks and move quickly to demand transparency and accountability while working to change the laws that strengthen voter rights and better protect citizens and their sensitive information.
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