The president is not asking to see your secret ballot. Let’s debunk that worry right now.
In May, President Donald Trump created the Commission for Election Integrity to investigate voter fraud. It follows his claim that three to five million undocumented immigrants cast illegal votes in November — a claim that doesn’t have a basis in reality.
The commission this month asked the election heads of all 50 states, including Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, to turn over voter information: your full name, date of birth, address, party affiliation, last four Social Security digits, driver license numbers, which elections you voted in back to 2006 (not your vote itself), military status, overseas status, and whether you’ve been convicted of any felonies.
That should be shocking to you. While I could send a reporter to the Lorain County Board of Elections office and get your name, date of birth, and registered party affiliation under Ohio’s public records laws, we can’t see a lot of information that bears specific protections.
Ohio is among the many states — more than half — that have either fully or partially refused Trump’s request for voting records. Near us, Republican-leaning states Kentucky and Tennessee said they refuse to give out any election data at all, as did Democratic-leaning states such as New York and Virginia.
Husted, a Republican, released a statement Friday upholding Ohio laws that protect your voting privacy. I believe he made absolutely the right call, promising to provide voter fraud reports already in the public domain, as well as voter registration information that is online under the state’s Sunshine Laws. However, confidential information, such as the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers or their Ohio driver license numbers will not be provided to the president’s commission.
We know public records because we regularly use them to report. Under Ohio law, neither Husted nor Gov. John Kasich nor county elections director Paul Adams could legally give away some of the information Trump has requested. And if we were to make a request like Trump’s under ORC 149.43, it would be summarily denied as being “overbroad,” meaning it’s not specific enough to be fulfilled.
Trump, on Twitter, bristled at the rejection. “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished voter fraud panel. What are they trying to hide?” he posted.
Husted isn’t trying to hide anything in this case. In May, he released a voter fraud report based on a review of November cases among Ohio’s 88 counties. It found 153 irregularities in which 52 people were referred for additional investigation or prosecution. Of those cases referred, 22 were identified as having voted in Ohio and another state.
“Conducting these reviews of our elections is about finding the facts. We reviewed every reported case of voter suppression and voter fraud and are sharing those facts to inform the discussion on election integrity,” Husted said. “Once again our review shows that while rare, voting fraud does occur. But more importantly, we are holding those accountable who violate our election laws.”
A February report by Husted’s office showed 385 noncitizens were registered to vote in Ohio in 2017. Of them, 82 were identified as having voted in at least one election — which doesn’t contribute much toward the president’s three-to-five million claim.
“In light of the national discussion about illegal voting it is important to inform our discussions with facts,” Husted said. “The fact is voter fraud happens, it is rare and when it happens, we hold people accountable.”
ACLU Nationwide argues that the Trump commission’s goals are aimed at voter suppression.
Over the weekend, the civil rights watchdog released a video aimed at commission vice chair Kris Kobach, Kansas secretary of state and former chairman of the Kansas Republican Party, who is running for governor.
“Kris Kobach has a long record of trying to block eligible people from voting,” the organization posted online, alleging that he disenfranchised 18,000 Kansans. According to the video, “Now he wants to purge voters by using their personal information in a sham system that researchers have shown would block legal votes.”
The federal commission will meet for the first time July 19.
I, like Husted, believe all states should take a stand in protecting your non-public information. Also, conducting elections is a responsibility directly relegated to the states by the Constitution and doesn’t bear federal oversight or scrutiny.
Husted is right in saying this is “an opportunity to build confidence in our election system.” Trump has called into question the honesty and competency of the state officials charged with safeguarding elections. That’s simply not presidential.
And it understandably has many election officials mad. Take Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, another Republican, who used some incendiary language.
“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” he said in response to the commission, reinforcing “our state’s right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes.”