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What does this Trump commission want to do with states’ voter information?

June 30, 2017 at 6:40 PM EDT
President Trump has authorized a special commission to investigate his unsubstantiated claim that up to 5 million votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election. Vice Chairman Kris Kobach penned a letter to states to send voter data, including addresses and social security information, directly to the White House. Hari Sreenivasan speaks with Rick Hasen of the University of California, Irvine.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: Now to President Trump’s repeated and unsubstantiated claim that three to five million votes were cast illegally in the 2016 election. He set up a special commission to investigate, but one of its first acts has drawn condemnation from across the country.

Hari Sreenivasan is here with that.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Yesterday, the vice chair of that commission sent a letter to all 50 states asking for voter data that includes addresses, party I.D., voter history, and Social Security information. The commission asked that data be sent to the White House by mid-July, but didn’t say how it would be used, other than to examine for vulnerabilities in the system.

We take a closer look now with Rick Hasen. He is a law professor at the University of California, Irvine. He writes the Election Law blog.

Rick, the NewsHour’s been reaching out to states all day long. And we have got nine definite no’s, 18 that might comply in whole or in part, and a few other states that are still looking at it. Often, what we hear there is that there are apparently laws on the books in certain states that prohibit, even if it’s public information, who can look at the information and why it can be looked at.

Explain.

RICK HASEN, University of California, Irvine: Well, some of this information, depending on the state, is available publicly. People can buy it. Some of this is not available.

And, in fact, just before we came on, I saw a story that Kris Kobach himself, the personal who has asked for this information, he himself cannot produce the Social Security numbers that he has demanded because that would violate the law in the state of Kansas.

This doesn’t seem to have been very well thought out. Not only do we not know what the information is going to be used exactly to do. It doesn’t appear that this information even legally can be provided by a lot of the states.

HARI SREENIVASAN: So, Kris Kobach, as his role as secretary of state of Kansas, can’t provide the information that he’s asking for, right?

RICK HASEN: To himself. That’s right.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Got it. Right.

All right, what about the scope of the investigation? There seems to be a lot of focus on measuring or protecting the integrity one person, one vote. I don’t see any description in here about any Russian meddling that might have happened.

RICK HASEN: Well, so it’s not clear exactly what this commission is going to do.

Initially, the president said he wanted to look into the potential for voter fraud. There are a couple of Democrats on the commission who said that they wanted to look into Russian meddling. Kobach said he might be open to that, but that wasn’t on the list of questions that was sent to various state election officials.

It’s not clear what this group is going to do, what it’s going to produce. But I’m concerned that it’s going to be something that is just going to try to support the president’s agenda, claiming that there’s a lot of voter fraud, and use that to make it harder for people to be able to register to vote.

HARI SREENIVASAN: Is this the kind of information that a campaign really would pay money for?

RICK HASEN: Well, in some states, campaigns do pay money for this kind of information.

The fact that the information is going to sent to the president’s office is concerning. Rather than having outside professional staff or rather than having social scientists who study this information, we know that this information is going literally to the executive office of the president.

We don’t know how it’s going to be kept. We don’t know how secure it’s going to be, on what kind of servers. We don’t have any information. But the concerns about privacy, about identity theft, about the information being used for political purposes, I think these are all legitimate questions to be asked.

HARI SREENIVASAN: And, finally, is there a question here on the role of the federal government? There seemed to be some pushback from states when it came to the Department of Homeland Security going out to them, saying we have this potential for hacking, we would like to help you secure your networks.

RICK HASEN: Absolutely.

There has been this long tradition, especially on the Republican side, of talking about federalism and states’ rights in this area. And we’re even seeing some pushback now from states like Mississippi that are saying they are not going to cooperate with providing this information to the federal government.

HARI SREENIVASAN: All right, Rick Hasen, a professor at University of California, Irvine, thanks so much.

RICK HASEN: Thank you.

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