Van Hollen Presses Trump Administration for Answers on how its Commission on Election Integrity Will Use Sensitive Voter Data
This week, U.S. Senator Chirs Van Hollen (D-Md.) joined 17 other Senate Democrats in again demanding answers about the Trump administration's Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. The commission was established by the Trump administration in May supposedly to investigate the president's debunked claim of mass voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Many lawmakers, election officials, citizen watchdogs and security experts have said they fear that the commission's real purpose is to create obstacles to voting for American citizens, particularly minority, younger and low-income voters.
The commission received overwhelming criticism this spring when it first asked all 50 states to provide sensitive voter information. Despite numerous requests from Congress and concerns raised by state election officials and national security experts about how it will use the information and what steps it will take to protect it from being stolen, the commission and the administration have not only declined to give any information, the commission has sent a second request to states for voter information.
The senators wrote, "The Commission appears to be determined to push forward with its data collection efforts. Accordingly, we demand answers to the questions that were originally posed in the July 6 letter related to the Commission's procedures and plans for: (1) safe keeping of any voter data collected; (2) use of any voter data collected; and (3) quality control measures to ensure any usage of or conclusions drawn from the obtained voter data are based on a matching program that provides a high level of statistical confidence."
"We also remain concerned about what the Commission intends to do with the data it does collect," the senators added. "The process for updating voter rolls must be compliant with the National Voter Registration Act and should not impede Americans from exercising their right to vote. We strongly encourage the Commission to be more transparent about how sensitive voter data will be used."
In addition to Senator Van Hollen, it was signed by Senators Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Tom Udall (D-N.M.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Angus King (I-Maine), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.), Al Franken (D-Minn.), Chris Coons (D-Del.), Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), Thomas Carper (D-Del.), and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
Udall previously joined senators in a letter to the commission asking it to rescind its demand for voter registration information. Along with U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich and U.S. Rep. Michelle Lujan Grisham, Udall alsointroduced a bicameral billto repeal Trump's executive order establishing the Presidential Advisory Commission for Election Integrity. Further, Udall has requested details about the commission's compliance with the Federal Advisory Commission Act (FACA) and demanded details on the commission's procedures and protocols to ensure covered records are properly preserved and made accessible.
The full text of the senators' letter is below:
We write to follow up on previous letters sent to the Commission that continue to go unanswered and to express concern regarding recent actions taken by the Commission.
As Senators Klobuchar and Whitehouse noted to the Commission in a September 12 letter, the Commission "has not responded to a single letter from Senators with oversight jurisdiction over the Commission and continues to be rebuked for its questionable activities."
To date, not only has the Commission failed to respond to congressional requests, but it has also ignored the overwhelming bipartisan pushback on its data collection effort from both state election officials and national security experts. We write to express continued concern in light of the Commission's second request for sensitive voter data from state officials. Following the Commission's original request, a group of twenty-five Senators wrote a letter on July 6 to request the Commission rescind its demand for sensitive voter registration information. While the Commission did not respond to that letter, it did send a new letter to state election officials on July 26 reiterating a request for state-level voter data.
The Commission appears to be determined to push forward with its data collection efforts. Accordingly, we demand answers to the questions that were originally posed in the July 6 letter related to the Commission's procedures and plans for: (1) safe keeping of any voter data collected; (2) use of any voter data collected; and (3) quality control measures to ensure any usage of or conclusions drawn from the obtained voter data are based on a matching program that provides a high level of statistical confidence.
We also remain concerned about what the Commission intends to do with the data it does collect. Reports indicate that the Commission is pursuing a data-matching program similar to the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck (Crosscheck) program. This raises serious concerns because the Crosscheck program currently operated by Secretary Kobach in Kansas has longstanding issues regarding accuracy and has been repeatedly challenged in litigation.
Researchers from Stanford, Harvard, Yale and the University of Pennsylvania found that Crosscheck's methodology would wrongly identify 200 legitimate voters for every double voter that could be identified. In other words, the Crosscheck program "gets it wrong over 99 percent of the time." Questions about the quality of Crosscheck's data are not just academic, election officials have also acknowledged the poor data quality produced by Crosscheck. It has been reported that Florida, Oregon and Washington withdrew from Crosscheck because the results of its matching were riddled with errors. Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon elected not to participate in the program noting that it had "an unacceptably high risk of false positives."
Maintaining accurate voter registration lists is very important, however the manner in which lists are updated is vital to ensuring that the voting rights of Americans are protected. Crosscheck's false positives affect more than just voters who are mismatched. Crosscheck's data has a history of being used to push false claims of widespread voter fraud and to justify legislation that makes it harder for Americans to vote. North Carolina identified Crosscheck's incorrect matches as justification for a law that the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals would condemn for targeting "African Americans with almost surgical precision." The process for updating voter rolls must be compliant with the National Voter Registration Act and should not impede Americans from exercising their right to vote. We strongly encourage the Commission to be more transparent about how sensitive voter data will be used.
We request the Commission's prompt attention and response to the issues raised in this letter and expect a response no later than November 1.
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