Trump Administration Says Election Panel Is No Threat to Voter Privacy

  • Justice lawyers ask judge to reject bid to block gathering
  • Advocacy group calls committee’s plan for information ‘crazy’

President Donald Trump’s election integrity commission should be allowed to collect voter information, the administration argued, opposing a lawsuit challenging the panel’s work as infringing on privacy rights.

Since it only asked for publicly available data there is no risk, according to the filing. The Electronic Privacy Information Center sued July 3 to halt the information gathering, saying the commission overreached because it didn’t assess whether it might violate individuals’ privacy rights before going to the states and the District of Columbia.

"The public interest weighs against emergency injunctive relief," the Justice Department said in a filing Wednesday in federal court in Washington. "The voter data that EPIC seeks to enjoin the commission from collecting is already made publicly available by the states."

The Washington-based group had asked U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to halt the information gathering until the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity meets its obligations, and to order destruction or return of any data already collected.

The judge on Wednesday issued her own request for information. She wants to know who’s on the president’s commission, whether any federal agencies are represented on the panel and whether the U.S. General Services Administration will be involved in the data collection and storage. She asked for responses by Thursday.

States Rights

About 40 states have said they’ll reject the information request in whole or in part. Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said his state’s laws bar compliance, while fellow Democrat, Washington Mayor Muriel Bowser, said the inquiry “serves no legitimate purpose and only raises questions of intent.”

Republican Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said, “they can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”

“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL,” Trump responded in a July 1 tweet. “What are they trying to hide?”

Trump created the panel with an executive order on May 11. The president has said his Democratic rival in last year’s presidential election, Hillary Clinton, only won the popular vote because millions of people illegally cast ballots. Clinton garnered almost 3 million more votes, but Trump prevailed via the Electoral College.

While the panel is led by Vice President Mike Pence, its public face has been Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who made the data request in letters to the states last week. He asked for recommendations on how his panel could help state and local election administrators shore up system vulnerabilities as well as details on instances of registration and voting fraud.

Kobach limited the committee’s request to information that was already publicly available. That information -- which includes voter names and addresses, birth dates, party affiliations if available, voting histories and the final four digits of social security numbers -- would be stored and made publicly available, a practice EPIC’s lawyers said was “without precedent and crazy.”

The case is Electronic Privacy Information Center v. Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, 17-cv-1320, U.S. District Court, District of Columbia (Washington).

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