Editorial: States correct to balk at releasing private voter info

Published 10:39 pm Wednesday, July 12, 2017

Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon announced June 30 that he would defy a request from the president’s Election Integrity Commission to turn over detailed voter information to the federal government.

“I will not hand over Minnesota voters’ sensitive personal information to the commission,” he said in a statement. “I have serious doubts about the commission’s credibility and trustworthiness. Its two co-chairs have publicly backed President Trump’s false and irresponsible claim that millions of ineligible votes were cast in the last election.”

That’s a pointed statement.

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But lest the debate devolve immediately into partisan finger-pointing, note that Simon, a Democrat, was not the only state election official to be blunt in response to the commission’s request.

“They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” said Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican.

“You’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data, and if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law to any candidate running for office. That’s it,” said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler, also a Republican.

In all, 44 states have in part or in totality declined to provide the requested voter data. Why?

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity was created to ferret out voter fraud (a worthy cause, although overblown based on the actual number of cases that have been found in recent election cycles).

The plan is to get all 50 states to provide all publicly available information about every voter, including name, address, date of birth, last four digits of Social Security numbers, political party affiliation, voter history since 2006, criminal history, military history, overseas citizen information and voter registration history in other states.

Once all of that information is sent to Washington, the idea is to cross-reference the lists with each other, as well as other data, to catch people who voted when they shouldn’t have or are registered in more than one location.

It sounds simple. It is not. Just consider how many Sam Johnsons exist among America’s more than 200 million eligible voters. How many of those are Samuels, Samanthas, Samms, Sam Jr., Sam Sr., or Sams who moved since the last election? It’s easy to see how list matching — a Sisyphean task in itself — will be the “easy” part.

But many of the states’ objections are more fundamental than skepticism about whether the commission is up to the task.

Some state officials, like Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner, point out that their own laws prohibit release of Social Security numbers or voter data about, for instance, police officers or victims of stalking or domestic violence.

Wisconsin’s message appears to be that the commission can buy the same list that is available to anyone, but it won’t release any additional information. That’s a viable option for Minnesota’s voter data, as well. By law, any Minnesota registered voter can buy the voter registration list — but it won’t have ID or Social Security numbers or dates of birth, rendering it largely useless as a tool for detecting vote fraud.

Giving this commission what it wants is at least as risky as the Real ID Act that Minnesotans held out against far longer than the rest of the nation. The data security risks are gargantuan and real at a very personal level, and the problem — as small as it has proved to be by study after study — can be combated by states in compliance with their own laws.

— St. Cloud Times, July 8

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Editorials from newspapers around the state of Minnesota.

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