The White House’s attempt to investigate President Trump’s over-the-top claims about voter fraud hasn’t gone well, with 44 out of 50 states saying they can’t or won’t provide at least some of the requested voter data. As James Hohmann notes, many of them are red states taking a conservative, federalist hard line against delivering people’s data to the White House.
And the White House began fighting back Wednesday, issuing a defiant statement from the vice chair of the voter fraud commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, and having Vice President Pence put his weight behind it.
But the claims made in that statement are dishonest spin, at best.
Here’s what Kobach said:
On June 28, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity issued a letter requesting that states provide publicly available voter data as permitted under their state laws. At present, 20 states have agreed to provide the publicly available information requested by the Commission and another 16 states are reviewing which information can be released under their state laws. In all, 36 states have either agreed or are considering participating with the Commission’s work to ensure the integrity of the American electoral system.
While there are news reports that 44 states have “refused” to provide voter information to the Commission, these reports are patently false, more “fake news”. At present, only 14 states and the District of Columbia have refused the Commission’s request for publicly available voter information. Despite media distortions and obstruction by a handful of state politicians, this bipartisan commission on election integrity will continue its work to gather the facts through public records requests to ensure the integrity of each American’s vote because the public has a right to know.
The statement was issued by Pence’s office, and the vice president followed it up with his own supportive tweet.
— Vice President Pence (@VP) July 5, 2017
These arguments are why the phrase “fake news” has lost all meaning.
The fact is that both of these statements are true:
- 44 states have said they aren’t providing at least some voter information to the commission
- 36 states have agreed to or are considering providing at least some data
The commission asked for all publicly available information about voter rolls in every state, including names of all registrants, addresses, dates of birth, partial Social Security numbers and other data. As The Post’s John Wagner and Mark Berman note, 44 of them have said they won’t be providing at least some of these data, either by choice or because they are constrained by state voter privacy laws.
But it’s also possible that 36 of them have indeed agreed to or are considering providing data — some data. In the middle are about two dozen states that are only providing part of what’s been requested. Hence the difference between the 44 and the 36 statements.
But Kobach’s statement says that 44 number is “fake news”: “While there are news reports that 44 states have ‘refused’ to provide voter information to the Commission, these reports are patently false, more ‘fake news.'” This is the dishonest part. The White House can argue that it’s more notable that 36 states are providing at least some data, but it’s also real news that 44 of them aren’t providing at least some data.
It’s one thing to argue which of these facts are more important. The White House could perhaps also argue that the media should better emphasize that some states say they are merely hindered by their own laws and aren’t refusing by choice. But it’s another to allege that factually accurate statements are “fake news.” The White House asked for this information from every state, and 44 of them aren’t fully complying.
The White House, of course, has a definition of fake news that is generally more about news being framed in a way it doesn’t like, rather than news that is necessarily provably false or even false at all. This is a prime example of that.
Perhaps the most remarkable part about this spin from the White House is that Pence tacitly joined in the “fake news” allegation by tweeting “real news.” It wouldn’t be surprising to see this allegation only from Kobach or from Trump or the White House press team. The vice president, whose office issued the statement, is also owning this spin.