by Karen Cárdenas, LWVOK Co-President
July 22, 2017
When the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was first announced in May of 2017, the League of Women Voters of the United States, along with many other organizations, attacked it immediately. They were not concerned that the commission would find wide-spread electoral fraud. That issue has been resolved many times over by a myriad of studies, most notably by the Brennan Center whose research has shown that incidents of voter fraud are few.
The LWVUS's concern was with voter suppression. In the past, efforts to "clean up the voting rolls" have been nothing more than thinly-veiled attempts at disenfranchising thousands of people. And, not just any people. The individuals targeted have largely been elderly or members of minority groups. They have been people who tend to vote in a certain way; therefore, their elimination from the voting rolls has been to the advantage of one political party.
In order to accomplish their work, the commission asked states to supply them with the names, addresses, party affiliation and voting histories of voters in their states. They also asked for criminal and military history as well as the last four digits of their Social Security numbers. However, they also limited their request to information that is "publicly available."
Since every state handles voter information differently, the responses from states have varied widely. According to a Public Broadcasting Service article, 14 states had refused to comply with the commission's request. Others had agreed to supply some of the information requested, but not all of it. The Oklahoma State Election Board took the unique action of supplying the commission with the information on its website where publicly available information could be obtained (for a fee); but, it did not supply the information directly.
Bryan Dean, the Public Information Officer for the Oklahoma State Election Board, pointed out in an email to LWVOK Co-Presidents, Karen Cárdenas and Jan Largent, that the commission had only requested data that is "publicly available under the laws of your state" and, that is what Oklahoma has provided. He added that some information, such as voters' felony records, is not available at all. Oklahoma maintains a list of individuals who have been denied permission to register to vote because of a felony convictions. However, once individuals have completed their sentence, they become new registrants and there is no link to their criminal history.
It is not certain what the commission could do with only partial information. However, some states are not waiting to find out. Recently, the League of Women Voters of Texas sued the state over even releasing publicly available information to the commission. The Texas League's allegation is that voters had an expectation of privacy when they provided this information to the state. The commission has promised to make public any information it receives. The LWVT alleges that making even a limited amount of information public at a national level could lead to identity theft and is a violation of citizens' rights to privacy.
Given the challenges facing the Presidential Advisory Commission, it is doubtful that it can produce anything useful. Given the threat it poses to voters, however, its efforts should be carefully monitored.