October 23, 2017
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Maine law could keep voters’ personal info away from Trump panel

By Michael Shepherd, BDN Staff
Updated:
Dave Kaup | Reuters | BDN
Dave Kaup | Reuters | BDN
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks about the Kansas voter ID law that he pushed to combat what he believes to be rampant voter fraud in the United States in his office in Topeka, Kansas.

AUGUSTA, Maine — A controversial commission set up by President Donald Trump to examine U.S. election fraud asked all 50 states on Wednesday to provide detailed information on voter rolls, but Maine law may keep Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap from releasing much of it.

All states got a Wednesday letter from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, the vice chairman of the Presidential Commission on Election Integrity, asking them to provide data publicly available under state laws on voter files, saying it will be made available to the public.

It’s an effort to examine voter fraud — a phenomenon that is a focus of Republicans, yet has proven to be rare. A professor at Loyola Law School in Los Angeles wrote in The Washington Post in 2014 that he found 31 cases out of 1 billion ballots in the preceding 14 years.

The commission convened by the Republican president and chaired by Vice President Mike Pence has been criticized by many, including the American Civil Liberties Union, which has called it a “boondoggle.”

But Dunlap, a Democrat, agreed to join it in May, saying that while he expects the commission to find little evidence of fraud, his attitude about serving was “that if you’re not at the table, you’re on it.”

Kobach’s letter asks for the first and last names of registrants, along with middle names or initials, addresses, dates of birth, party affiliation, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, voter history from 2006, information on felony convictions, overseas citizen information and other information — if that information is publicly available.

In an email, Dunlap spokeswoman Kristen Muszynski said the secretary of state “will review the request” for voter information and if it’s granted, the commission “would have to follow all the provisions” of state law around the file, known as Maine’s Central Voter Registration.

But state law could shield much of that, allowing Maine to provide voter information to governmental entities while saying it can be used only for “authorized activities and may not be redistributed.”

In those cases, first and last names can be released, but only the year of birth and not the date. Randomly assigned voter record numbers can be disclosed to the voter, a court pursuant to a court order or a bona fide law enforcement official who is investigating a specific voter. But they “are not released in any report or file of voters, regardless of whether it is an authorized use,” according to Muszynski. Party affiliation isn’t included in that list of uses.

The American Civil Liberties Union has fought Kobach in Kansas on attempts to tighten voting laws there. A federal judge fined him $1,000 for making “misleading” statements about a document that he was photographed taking into a meeting last year with Trump when the ACLU asked for it, according to the Associated Press.

“I fully expect the secretary of state to protect that information if they have it,” Zach Heiden, the chief lawyer for the ACLU of Maine, said.

 

Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated how data on individual voters are tracked. Each voter's file is assigned a random number, according to the Maine Secretary of State's Office.


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