Governor Andrew Cuomo has vowed to protect New Yorkers’ voting data by withholding it from President Trump’s controversial election commission, joining 44 other states and the District of Columbia in partially or entirely denying the blanket request sent out on June 28.
“The electoral process is sacred and New York law has strong safeguards in place to prevent sharing of sensitive voter data and harassment against those who exercise their right to vote,” said Gov. Cuomo via press release on June 30. “New York refuses to perpetuate the myth voter fraud played a role in our election. We will not be complying with this request and I encourage the Election Commission to work on issues of vital importance to voters, including ballot access, rather than focus on debunked theories of voter fraud.”
The “myth” Cuomo refers to is the allegations of voter fraud made by President Trump less than a week after his inauguration. According to Trump, between 3 and 5 million illegal votes were cast against him in the 2016 election and cost him the popular vote to Hillary Clinton.
“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?” tweeted President Trump on July 1.
The commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and created by President Trump through an executive order, identifies itself as nonpartisan. The letters requesting voter data were sent by vice chairman Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, who said the data received from states is intended to become public at some point.
Kobach was the only member of the committee selected by Pence. The other eight members were appointed by Trump, and are an even mix of Republicans and Democrats from eastern and midwestern government offices. One member, Maryland’s deputy secretary of state, resigned after Kobach’s request was sent.
The letters Kobach sent were word-for-word identical outside of the name of its recipient and their home state.
Each letter asked for voter data including “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, canceled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
The letters included a handful of questions for the recipient in addition to the request for data. Most of them generally addressed the integrity and efficiency of state elections, but one specifically asked for evidence of election fraud. Another question, perhaps hinted at in Cuomo’s statement, asked for suggestions on how to prevent voter intimidation and disenfranchisement.
Kobach stressed that the commission only wants publicly available data, but every state that responded to his letter made a point of refusing to provide private data. Only five states – New Jersey, Idaho, West Virginia, Montana, and Hawaii – have not refused to provide some or all of their data, but the first three are still reviewing the request.
Seven states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Alabama, Georgia, Iowa, Louisiana, and Oregon – took a different route and invited the commission to purchase public voter data the same way a private citizen would. According to press releases and government websites, the total cost would be a little over $52,000.
According to the United States Election Project, an American citizen would have to pay upwards of $120,000 to obtain voter data from every state possible, and the cost is even higher for political parties, candidates, committees, and non-profits. New York’s voter data is free, but restricted to parties using it for election purposes.
Partisan and nonpartisan state officials have condemned most aspects of the commission. Alex Padilla, the Californian Secretary of State, called it “nothing less than attack on the right to vote” at an online briefing held by the American Constitution Society for Law and Policy.
“Trump didn’t even try to maintain a façade of impartiality when he appointed these commissioners,” said Padilla. “If you wanted to put together a who’s who of poor choices on voting rights, here you have it.”
Some interests groups and private citizens, Democratic or otherwise, believe that the commission is an attempt to suppress the voters who denied Trump a popular victory during the 2016 presidential election.
In recent months, Trump has frequently aired his displeasure for losing the popular vote to Clinton. During his last presidential debate of the campaign, he refused to say whether or not he could accept losing the election. Trump, however, won the electoral college by 77 votes.
“This commission is not set up for an investigation. They already have a conclusion in mind,” said Justin Levitt, a law professor at Loyola Law School who spoke alongside Padilla. “The data they’re using cannot be used to test the validity of the voter roll to begin with.”
Blair Horner, the president of New York Public Interest Research Group, shared a similar conclusion.
“This is based on the president’s false premise that there’s widespread voter fraud in the country,” Horner said. “In terms of problems, voter fraud is as far down the list as you can get. The big problem is laws that suppress voter turnout, and if you want to put resources into something that matters, it’s institutional voter suppression.”