Raleigh, N.C. — North Carolina will comply with a Trump administration request to provide troves of public voter data, a request some states are resisting.
The data dive is part of President Donald Trump's promised elections Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, something that grew from his unsubstantiated claims that last year's election featured massive voter fraud.
Democratic Party election officials and governors in other states pushed back on the request this week, which went to every state in the country via letter. They decried a witch hunt, meant to re-enforce the false notion that voter fraud is common.
A former head of the U.S. Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division in the Obama administration wrote Thursday that the letter is "laying the groundwork for voter suppression, plain & simple."
But the letter seeks only publicly available data, and under North Carolina law most of what was requested is readily available via the state's online system. The letter was addressed to Secretary of State Elaine Marshall, whose office does not handle elections, and the request was forwarded to the State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement, which will, "provide only the data that’s already public and available under state law," spokesman Patrick Gannon said in an email.
That means the commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, won't get the last four digits of people's Social Security numbers, their dates of birth or their driver's license numbers. It will get voters' names, party affiliations and a record of what elections they voted in, though not whom they voted for.
Different states have different laws for release of voter information, and North Carolina's lean toward public access.
"We purchase voter rolls," said Robert Popper, senior attorney for Judicial Watch's election integrity project in Washington, D.C., a right-leaning group. "Everyone purchases voter rolls. Marketing outlets purchase voter rolls. So, the idea that the commission is doing something wild or out of the ordinary is crazy."
The letter also asks a series of questions about voter fraud, voter intimidation and improving elections in general. It also seeks information about felony convictions, voters who may be registered in another state, canceled registrations and registered voters who haven't recently voted.
Left-leaning groups said their uneasiness over the request is more than justified. Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is the commission's vice chairman, and he has pushed repeatedly for more voting restrictions in his state. The American Civil Liberties Union dubbed him "The King of Voter Suppression."
Bob Hall, executive director of Democracy North Carolina, said a crosscheck database Kobach markets to root out fraud is riddled with errors. Based on it, Hall said, he's registered in North Carolina and Ohio because there is another Robert Hall there with whom he shares a birthday.
"It is incredibly stupid and a colossal mistake to create a public national database with sensitive information about voters; it threatens to damage election security and expose millions of Americans to identity theft and untold acts of fraud," Hall said in an email.
Numerous challenges to votes in North Carolina's gubernatorial election last fall were filed by former Gov. Pat McCrory's campaign and the North Carolina Republican Party based on identical names showing up on the rolls in multiple states, but elections boards rejected the protests.
An audit by North Carolina elections officials found only 24 voters statewide who cast multiple ballots in the November election. Almost all of the 508 ballots the state board said were ineligible were cast by felons, many who were confused about their voting status, according to the audit.
"My staff has told the State Board of Elections that we should not participate in providing sensitive information beyond what is public record as it is unnecessary and because I have concerns that it is an effort to justify the President's false claims about voter fraud.," Gov. Roy Cooper said in a statement.
Susan Myrick, who focuses on election issues for the Civitas Institute, a right-leaning group in North Carolina, called the Trump administration's request "very reasonable."
"I can't imagine that anyone would be concerned about a national database," she said, noting that it would be accurate only for "a moment in time" because people move and die, among other things.
"It's a good way to see how many people are registered in more than one state," she said.
California and Kentucky secretaries of state said they wouldn't provide "sensitive" voter information to a commission they believe has already made up its mind or is an effort to advance false notions on voter fraud. Virginia's governor said in a statement that he had "no intention of honoring this request" and that "at best, this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump's alternative election facts."
Though the letter lays out in detail the information it's seeking, including racial and partisan affiliation data that states collect as well as voter participation records back to 2006, it says twice it's seeking only publicly available data.
Reading between the lines, though, it looks a lot like a prelude to suppression, Common Cause North Carolina's Bob Phillips said.
"It's hard to look at that letter and think legitimately it's an attempt to protect the integrity of our elections," he said. "It's hard not to be skeptical. It's almost like they're trying to fish ... what are they fishing for."