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Thursday, July 13, 2017 12:05 am

Illinois to Trump: “No”

Voter data request is a non-starter



It all began with a June 28 letter sent to the secretary of state of each state and signed by commission vice chair Kris W. Kobach. The letter requested that states share “publicly available voter roll data” with the commission, including “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 State Board of Elections sent a letter July 7 refusing the request. It said in part, “the State of Illinois does not have a publicly available voter roll. Therefore, our agency does not have any material responsive to the commission’s request.”

The request had already proven controversial, with 46 states so far, including Illinois, having declined outright to provide the information or only agreeing to share limited data. As of July 10, the request was put on hold by the commission after being hit with multiple lawsuits, including one from the American Civil Liberties Union and one from the nonprofit Electronic Privacy Information Center.

How much information is Illinois legally able to share about its citizens when solicited by Washington?

“Illinois law allows the state board to provide voter registration and voter history data to registered political committees for political purposes and to governmental entities for governmental purposes with the restriction that the data is not to be released to the public,” (italics added) said Dr. Kent Redfield, emeritus professor of Political Science at the University of Illinois Springfield. According to Redfield, as none of the requested information is public on a state level, the commission is asking for something which, by definition, does not exist. Furthermore, if the state board were to provide this non-publicly-available voter registration and voter history data to a commission which intends to make that data public, it would violate Illinois law. “While this may seem like a Catch-22, the logic is sound,” Redfield said.

“I don’t understand the reasons for the request by this commission in the first place,” said Ron Michaelson, former executive director of the State Board of Elections (1976-2003). “Even if all 50 states complied in full – which obviously won’t happen – it’s not clear how they were going to use the data to come to conclusions involving voter integrity.” Michaelson, who also teaches political science at UIS, noted that, while the request is odd, the fear some have expressed regarding potential abuse of the data is an overreaction. “It’s interesting, though,” he said with a chuckle, “even the vice-chairman of the commission – who is the secretary of state of Kansas and a Republican – has been unable to have his own state comply fully with the request for reasons related to laws in Kansas.”

Contact Scott Faingold at sfaingold@illinoistimes.com.


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