Tennessee secretary of state refuses to share voter info

Tennessee secretary of state refuses to share voter info

July 1st, 2017 by Andy Sher in Politics State

Staff file photo / Secretary of State Tre Hargett says Tennessee law blocks providing information on state voters to Trump's 'election integrity' panel

Photo by Dan Henry /Times Free Press.

Related Article

Trump slams election officials over voter data refusals

Read more

NASHVILLE — Citing provisions of Tennessee law, Secretary of State Tre Hargett says his office won't comply with a request from President Donald Trump's Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to provide the panel personal information about voters here.

"Although I appreciate the commission's mission to address election-related issues, like voter fraud, Tennessee state law does not allow my office to release the voter information requested to the federal commission," said Hargett, a Republican, in a statement Friday.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican serving as vice chairman of Trump's recently created commission, sent the letter request Wednesday to Hargett and other heads of elections in all 50 states.

His request included information about voters' full first and last names, middle names or initials, addresses, dates of birth, political party, voting history, the last four digits of voters' Social Security numbers and criminal background information.

Kobach's letter also says documents submitted to the commission "will also be made available to the public."

In response to a reporter's questions about public availability of the records, Hargett spokesman Adam Ghassemi said by email that Tennessee law "provides that certain voter information, including voter history, is available to a person who certifies, under penalty of being charged with a crime, that the list will be used for a political purpose."

While political parties and candidates can and do purchase such information, Ghassemi noted that "even when this information is requested for a political purpose, it does not include a Social Security number, in whole or in part."

Kobach's letter also asks states to respond to a list of questions about voting in their states, inquiring about what "law, policies or other issues hinder your ability to ensure the integrity of elections you administer."

A number of Democrats as well as civil and voting rights groups are questioning the motivations of both Trump and Kobach.

New York University School of Law's Brennan Center for Justice has described Kobach as an "architect of restrictive voting and immigration laws around the country" and noted Kobach "cheered" unsubstantiated claims by Trump that "millions" of people illegally voted in last November's presidential election.

Vice President Mike Pence is chairman of the commission.

A number of Democratic secretaries of state and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, have criticized Kobach's letter.

"At best, this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Mr. Donald Trump's alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression," McAuliffe said in a statement.

Tennessee Democratic Party Chairwoman Mary Mancini, meanwhile, said in a statement "the only fraud that is occurring is the fraudulent commission being led by Vice President Pence and Sec. Kobach."

Mancini charged Kobach "has a disgusting history of perpetuating the myth of voter fraud as an excuse to purge legitimate voters from the rolls or to prevent them from registering in Kansas."

Georgia Public Broadcasting News reported that Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, a Republican, will partially comply with the voter data request.

The state will provide voters' names, addresses, races and genders, all of which already are public record. But Social Security numbers will not be shared.

Tennessee voters do not register by party and are not identified by race.

After taking control of the Tennessee General Assembly in 2011, Republicans passed one of the nation's strictest photo identification laws for voters, leading to complaints that a number of citizens were losing their right to vote.

Those criticisms crystallized nationally when 96-year-old Dorothy Cooper of Chattanooga, a black woman who had voted even during the days of Jim Crow laws making it difficult for minorities to vote, had repeated problems getting the required ID.

In a 2011 interview with the Times Free Press, Tennessee State Election Coordinator Mark Goins acknowledged he could point only to one, possibly two, instances of someone being convicted of impersonating someone else when trying to vote in person.

"Well, it's kind of like the speed limit," Goins said. "If you don't have a speed limit, how many [speeders] do you have? You really don't know."

But the state has had issues with fraudulent elections. In 2006, Republican senators voided the election of state Sen. Ophelia Ford, D-Memphis, who won her contest over a Republican opponent by just 13 votes in an election in which an investigation found some voters who had participated were ineligible felons or had other issues such as living outside the district. Two votes were cast under the names of individuals who died before the election.

Earlier this year, Hargett said there were 42 reports of "voter fraud" last year in Tennessee involving convicted felons casting ballots, reports of double voting and "registration concerns."

Contact staff writer Andy Sher at asher@timesfreepress.com or 615-255-0550. Follow him on Twitter @AndySher1.


Loading...