President Donald Trump's commission investigating election fraud faced further pushback Thursday in the form of lawsuits seeking to block its collection of detailed information about every voter in the United States.
The commission last week asked secretaries of state for voters' names, birthdates, partial Social Security numbers and other detailed information if it is public under state laws. Fourteen states and the District of Columbia are refusing to comply, while many others plan to provide the limited information that is public under their laws.
On Thursday, two New Hampshire lawmakers joined the local American Civil Liberties Union chapter in suing Secretary of State Bill Gardner, arguing that turning over the data doesn't fit any of the specific scenarios allowed under state law. Gardner, a Democrat and member of the commission, plans to submit what is considered public in New Hampshire: names, addresses, party affiliations and voting history.
The Washington-based Electronic Privacy Information Center also filed a lawsuit this week in federal court seeking to stop the commission from gathering the data. The group argued that the commission should have completed an assessment of privacy concerns before making the request, that it was using a non-secured website to receive the information and that partial Social Security numbers should not be made public.
In a court filing Wednesday, the commission argued that the advocacy group did not make a case that any of its members would have been harmed by gathering the information and that there is nothing wrong with one government entity sharing public information with another. The commission also said the data would be transmitted securely and then stored on a secure White House server.
In the letter sent to states, commission vice chairman Kris Kobach said: "Please be aware that any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public." But in Wednesday's court filing, Kobach said he meant for that to apply only to answers to a series of questions about the role of the commission — not to the voter data.
Kobach, the Republican secretary of state in Kansas, also told the judicial panel that the data request, as he noted in the letter, applied only "if publicly available under the laws of your state."
While the New Hampshire attorney general plans to file a formal response, Gardner said Thursday he believes sending the information is legal under a provision that allows the secretary of state to enter into agreements with other states or groups of state for the purpose of comparing duplicate voter information. The lawsuit, filed by Republican Rep. Neal Kurk and Democratic state Sen. Bette Lasky, argues that doesn't apply, because the commission is not a group of states, its purpose is not to compare duplicate voter information and the commission plans to make the information it collects public. The New Hampshire law specifies that such information must be kept "secure."
"The legislature carefully designed strict restrictions on the sharing of voter information for good reason: to protect voter privacy," Kurk, who helped write the relevant statutes, said in a statement. "These protections would be rendered meaningless by the transfer of this data to the commission, which has established no security protocols and intends to post everything it receives online."
Under New Hampshire law, anyone can view the statewide voter database at the state archives building, but it can't be copied or transmitted. The same law allows Gardner to sell the database to political parties, political committees and candidates, none of which apply to the commission, the lawsuit argues.
"I was distressed over the fact that this voter information was going to be given out, and the governor and secretary of state were pretty free about doing it," Lasky, a former chair of the Senate Election Law committee, said in an interview. "I feel it explicitly goes against the intention of the (law)."
The commission is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence. Besides Kobach and Gardner, it includes three current other state secretaries of state and a former one, along with a former lawmaker and a county clerk. Christy McCormick, a member of the federal Election Assistance Commission is in the group, as is a legal fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation. Four of the members are Democrats. Eight of the 10 members are from east of the Mississippi River.
A hearing on the request for the restraining order in Washington has been scheduled for Friday.
Mulvihill reported from Cherry Hill, New Jersey.