Donald Trump's "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity" may be laying the groundwork for a mass voter suppression campaign in 2018 and beyond, critics fear, after commission Vice Chairman Kris Kobach sent a letter to secretaries of state in all 50 states on Wednesday requesting detailed personal information on every registered voter in every state.
Kobach, the 51-year-old Kansas secretary of state and current candidate for Kansas governor, is the architect of his state's 2011 "Secure and Fair Elections Act," considered a model for voter suppression legislation — which its advocates say is designed to prevent voter fraud — nationwide.
The Kansas politician has claimed that non-citizens of the United States vote by the millions in elections. However, the claim has not been backed by credible evidence, though it was echoed by Trump, who has asserted on repeated occasions that voting by "illegals" was the reason that he lost the nationwide popular vote to Democrat Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential election. The American Civil Liberties Union has labeled Kobach "the king of voter suppression."
The "Election Integrity" panel is chaired by U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and is scheduled to hold its first sit-down meeting on July 19, after an "organizational" conference call on Wednesday. But leading up to the meeting, Kobach sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state, reportedly identical to the letter sent to Connecticut Secretary of State Denise Merrill, seen below.
In the letter, Kobach "requests" complete voter rolls from Connecticut, 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, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information."
"The letter (Kobach) is sending to states confirms: Pence and Kobach are laying the groundwork for voter suppression, plain and simple," Vanita Gupta, former head of the U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division, said in a statement on Thursday.
While Kobach has been labeled the "king" of voter suppression, Pence was also active in voter suppression efforts while governor of Indiana, prior to winning election as vice president on Trump's ticket. Last October, with one month to go before the presidential election, Indiana State Police raided a voter registration drive aimed at registering African-American voters. Of the roughly 45,000 voters registered by the Indiana Voter Registration Project, state authorities claimed that they uncovered 10 voter forms that had been completed improperly, though the nature of the supposed errors the 10 forms contained remained unclear.
Indiana Secretary of State Connie Lawson has since reportedly removed approximately 500,000 names from Indiana voter registration rolls.
Just last week, Kobach was fined $1,000 by a federal judge in a case stemming from the Kansas law requiring Kansas voters to show "proof of citizenship" before being allowed to cast ballots. The judge said that Kobach had "made patently misleading representations to the court" over the nature of documents that he was seen carrying into a meeting with Trump — documents that the ACLU claimed contained Kobach's proposed alterations to the National Voter Registration Act.
Connecticut Secretary of State Merrill responded to Kobach's request on Thursday, saying that Connecticut would also request that the "Election Integrity" panel make public "memos, meeting minutes or additional information" that could make clear "what the commission is looking for."
My response to the Kobach Commission's request for voter data. We will do everything in our power to protect voters' rights pic.twitter.com/IpfX5Dgr7l
— Denise Merrill (@SOTSMerrill) June 29, 2017
While Trump has claimed that voting by "illegals" cost him the popular vote, other election experts believe that voter suppression efforts may have led to Trump's Electoral College victory, allowing him to win several states by narrow margins. For example, according to attorney and New Yorker writer Jeffrey Toobin, in Wisconsin's Milwaukee County, "which has a large African-American population, 60,000 fewer votes were cast in 2016 than in 2012."
"Clinton received 43,000 fewer votes in that county than Barack Obama did — a number that is nearly double Trump's margin of victory in all of Wisconsin," Toobin wrote.
[Featured Image by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images]