By electing a television star as president, voters seem to have sent an unfortunate message to politicians around the country, who now appear convinced that the people want drama queens.
State officials in both parties have taken a White House request for voter information as an opportunity for grandstanding. It’s gained a hearty round of applause from the press, but on close inspection, the drama is so absurd it’s more of a comedy.
“I find this request for the personal information of millions of Marylanders repugnant,” Maryland Attorney General Brian Frosh said to cheers on Twitter.
“My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico,” replied Mississippi’s Republican Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann.
Virginia’s Terry McAuliffe boldly declared he had “no intention” of supplying the information.
But these state officials are not standing like Danton in manly defiance of tyranny. They are not safeguarding personal secrets. They are not being asked to compromise confidential personal information. The White House’s election integrity commission is explicitly asking them only to hand over information that states already make public.
The commission’s vice chairman, Kris Kobach, in a letter to state officials, requested “the publicly available voter roll data … if publicly available under the laws of your state.” Party affiliation was requested “if recorded in your state.”
So any state could simply say “dates of birth and addresses of voters is not publicly available in our state” or that the last four digits of a voter’s Social Security number are kept confidential. This would fully comply with Kobach’s request and fully protect voter privacy.
But it wouldn’t gain approving retweets and laudatory mentions from those whose hair spontaneously combusts whenever they consider a proposal from the Trump administration.
As Washington Examiner political columnist Byron York noted recently, these puffed-up guardians of voter privacy have no qualms about handing out the very same information to anyone willing to pay for it. Virginia, for instance, will sell you lists of all registered voters’ “full name, residence address, mailing address, gender, date of birth, registration date, date last registration form received, registration status, locality, precinct, voting districts and voter identification number.”
Kris Kobach could go out and buy that information from Terry McAuliffe tomorrow. Come to think of it, maybe that’s why McAuliffe is refusing to hand it over to a federal commission; he much prefers people to pay than not.
What’s behind this recalcitrance by states?
For the Republicans, perhaps it’s a knee-jerk reaction rooted in federalism. The fact that states rather than the federal government run elections is a good reason for not giving Washington anything that’s not public. But again, Kobach didn’t request anything not public.
Democratic state officials (yes, Democrats do still hold power in a few wealthy coastal states) don’t want to associate themselves with Kobach’s effort because it’s crucial to them to reject and attack (but rarely to launch arguments against) the notion that voter fraud might be a problem.
Democrats get plenty of mileage out of blasting voter integrity measures as “disenfranchisement” or “voter intimidation.” If they actually believe voter fraud is a myth — perhaps it is — then why not welcome the chance to cooperate with an investigation that would prove it.
At the moment, though, state officials seem more interested in performative opposition to Trump than in anything else.