iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Following the Trump administration’s request for voter registration data as part of the newly-established Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, some U.S. states have seen an uptick of citizens moving to keep their information out of the federal government’s hands.
Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state and vice chairman of the commission, sent a letter asking officials in each state to provide personal records of voters — including name, birthdate, last four digits of Social Security numbers, party affiliation, and felony convictions.
A total of 16 Secretary of States and Elections Boards members spoke with ABC News about constituents’ responses to the request. Ten states noted at least a slight increase in citizen calls and emails, and some citizens inquired about the process to unregister to vote, or how to secure their personal information.
Amber McReynolds, the elections director for Denver, told ABC News of an “over 2000 percent increase in withdrawals from normal rates.”
“Colorado is the number one state in terms of registration rate across the country,” she added. As of July 6, the state had tracked 180 voter withdrawals, while a normal week sees eight.
Tina Prakash, deputy secretary of state for Connecticut, reported a similar response from her constituents. Of the 600 calls and emails the state office had received as of Monday, 96.3 percent of individuals were opposed to delivering any information, while 2.7 percent wanted to release publicly available data, and .5 percent supported providing the commission with full voter background information.
Chief deputy secretary of state for Idaho, Tim Hurst, estimated a ”gazillion calls and over 500 emails” of voters asking to not share their confidential information.
Kobach has been called the ‘king of voter suppression’ by the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Voting Rights Project, Dale Ho. The Kansas secretary of state was already involved in four lawsuits filed by the ACLU before the commission’s letter was released, all of which dealt with voter disenfranchisement.
Two of the cases take issue with Kobach’s aim to create a dual voter registration system, where only some individuals would be allowed to vote in federal elections, according to the way they register to vote. The remaining suits push back against Kansas law that require citizens to present a passport, birth certificate, or comparable document in order to vote. The motion argues that this stands against federal Motor Voter Law, which says states must have simple voter registration options at motor vehicle offices.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill noted the lack of information the state has been provided surrounding the commission’s intent. Merrill noted Alabama has “received a number of emotionally charged responses from individuals who have made decisions based on information that has been presented to them in media.”
Merrill added that this is because constituents haven’t been presented the necessary data to “make an informed decision on their personal position,” because of the state’s lack of knowledge “from the commission as a whole.”
Many states have said they will be partly complying to the commission’s request by only providing data that is already publicly available. Vermont is one such state, and its secretary, Jim Condos, spoke to ABC News about his concerns regarding disenfranchisement.
“Typically I try to explain to people that if they do unregister, they are giving a win to Trump and his cohorts. Everybody agrees that what they’re trying to do is really about voter suppression,” he said.
Dawn Williams, director of elections for the Iowa secretary of state, commented that “about 215 calls had been logged” under the subject of citizens concerned that their personal information, including Social Security number, would be shared with the commission. However, Williams noted that when state officials explain that Iowa will not be releasing such sensitive data, most individuals leave less concerned.
Other states have reported much smaller volumes of voter inquires. Erich Ebel, communications director for the Washington secretary of state, also spoke of a “handful” of constituents asking about disenrollment. However, Ebel noted that due to Washington state law, which requires the state to keep voter information in a public database for many years, unregistering may not actually secure personal data from the commission.
Delaware noted calls from concerned citizens, but no voters asking to unregister. Maine Director of Communications Kristen Schulze Muszynski similarly reported only a “sporadic” number of constituents asking to be taken off the voting rolls. Both states have said they refuse to comply with the commission’s request.
West Virginia, Ohio, Michigan, and Tennessee reported no sudden change in individuals asking to unregister. While Matthew McClellan, director of communications for the Ohio secretary of state, told ABC News that he was “not aware of increase or change in people asking to unregister,” both Michigan and Tennessee noted that at the state level there is no system in place to track this kind of information. However, both states did not know of any anecdotal information from county clerk offices regarding an uptick in constituent requests to unregister.
No state has yet to comply with the request in full, with 48 states either refusing to comply completely or only providing a portion of the information. Hawaii and Nebraska have not responded to the request. Critics of the letter include the ACLU and the advocacy groups Public Citizen, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and the Electronic Privacy Information Center. All four organizations have filed lawsuits against the commission’s requests.
The suits cite the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which establishes standards for transparency and accountability by groups like the commission. Kristen Clarke, the president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee said in a statement: “Through the Federal Advisory Committee Act, we are using an important statutory tool to expose and curb the illegitimacy of this commission.”
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