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From the editor

Here's why it's vital to hand your voter info over to Trump

Public records help ensure free & fair elections

Here are a few facts, rather than fervent partisan spin, on the request for voter rolls by the Trump administration's "Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity," as there's some stiff competition going for the most uninformed knee-jerk Democratic over-reaction:

This information is a public record, and should be released to anyone who asks for it.

As a reporter, I pull voting records all the time. How else do we know when novice candidates haven't bothered to cast ballots in previous primaries for the office they seek? How do we find out when politicians don't live in the district they purport to represent? How do we know when district lines are drawn to benefit a party, or discriminate based on ethnicity? By examining the rolls.

Yes, the commission set up by President Donald Trump and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach will transparently pursue an agenda of "proving" their baseless assertions that there were "millions of illegal votes" cast last year, and that more "strengthening up" (read "voter suppression") is needed.

Related: Reagan: Providing voter rolls to Trump admin not in 'best interests of the state'

But the fact that this data is available to the public is what will demonstrate that the "conclusions" that Kobach comes to are nonsense, just as voter rolls being public has repeatedly shown that voter fraud is a non-issue in past investigative reporting.

Ensuring free and fair elections, and blocking practices such as gerrymandering and Jim Crow efforts, means this information must be public.

Predicating access to public records based on who is asking for them and why they're asking is a door I don't want to open (one that's thankfully securely closed by law in Arizona).

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Here's what Kobach asked for from each state; the caveat "publicly available" is included twice in the same sentence delineating the requested information:

I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly- available voter roll data for [XXXX state], including, if publicly available under the laws of your state, the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.

The response from Arizona Secretary of State Michele Reagan: "Arizona will not provide the personal identifying information of Arizona's voters to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. We will only make available the same redacted information that is available to the general public through a public records request." Meaning, Social Security numbers, family maiden names, and full birth dates will not be included in the data, as those are not available to the public in this state.

Fair enough, so why the social media freakout?

It's a matter of law in Arizona that the voter database is public, and should be somewhat affordable.

Project Vote, a national voting-rights group, sued the state, and Pima and Maricopa counties, after a request for info about the 2012 election led to charges of $50,000 just from Maricopa alone. The state recently settled the case, agreeing that the entire database should cost only about $500. (I'd maintain it should be free, as it's easy to supply that amount of data online).

As that group said, public access to voter rolls protects the integrity of our elections:

The public availability of, and access to, voter registration records is key to ensuring that citizens and voter registration organizations can guard against capricious, negligent, or discriminatory practices on the part of state election officials. The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires that election officials make such records available for public inspection without imposing improper and discriminatory fees.

Just last week, Reagan said that the settlement lowering costs would "improve the accuracy and accessibility of voter information ... it will be easier for all parties to ensure voters are not inadvertently kept off or canceled for inappropriate reasons."

The state Legislature agreed about the accessibility of the rolls, voting this year to ensure that the charges for it are not exorbitant.

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Further, the NVRA — the "Motor Voter" law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1993 — requires states to maintain records of how voter rolls are kept up to date, and make them available to the public.

It's the public accessibility of voter rolls that, as Project Vote noted of their lawsuit over costs in Arizona, allows us to hold officials accountable. It's what allowed me to investigate just what went wrong in Arizona's "presidential primary" when so many who thought they were registered Democrats found out they were not. If this information was secret, the light of day wouldn't have forced a fix for this nonsense.

Heck, state law provides me more access to those records as a reporter than what Arizona officials are providing a presidential commission —that update to the law says I can't see your email address, but I've still got access to your date of birth, Social Security number, driver's license number, mother's maiden name (or your father's — Arizona law allows for that permutation), state of birth and your signature. Rarely do I dig that deeply, though. 

There isn't a problem here, folks. You should be encouraging wider access to this information, so that the specious arguments for restricting the right to vote can be refuted with accurate and up-to-date data that is available to everyone.

If you provide government officials with the ability to deny the release of records based on who's asking for them, consider the consequences. Should Joe Arpaio have been able to bury the records that demonstrated his racial profiling, and that he was ignoring hundreds of sex crimes? It was the release of records to journalists and activists that allowed us to know about that. Do you want to provide politicians with control over who sees what? Should Donald Trump have the ability to decide who gets to examine lists of campaign contributors? Should Doug Ducey be able to hide the spending records of Rio Nuevo? Should Chuck Huckelberry be able to draw up secret deals with Monsanto or World View? Should a Pima County Sheriff's Department officer be charged with crimes and PCSD be able to refuse to name him? Who decides?

If you're worried about what use Trump and Kobach and crew will put this information, you've got a good point. So challenge their conclusions. Don't undermine your own ability to build a case against their absurd political stunt.

If you keep this info from them, you keep it from groups that are fighting to ensure fair elections, block gerrymandering and protect the right to vote. If you keep it from them, you keep it from an independent press that checks everybody's homework, making sure that claims have some basis in fact and knocking down those that do not.

Politicians are all too eager, when it serves their ends, to not tell the public what's going on. It takes dedicated watchdogs, and open access to documents, to keep them on their toes.

Do you want officials to be able to deny records requests from reporters because they don't like the organization they work for? That's what you're advocating if you want the government to decide who has access to public information, and who does not. It's public, full stop.

Is Trump asking to see who you voted for in 2016 or 2006? Nope.

Your "voting history" is the listing of the elections in which you've participated, not which choices you've made regarding candidates and ballot questions. No one has that data; it simply doesn't exist. The various parties already have instant, up-to-date access to the voting files, anyway. They know when you changed your address, what party you're signed up with, and whether you skipped that City Council primary in 2015.

Will Trump give this data to Putin, as some have hyper-hypothesized? Who cares? Putin could ask for it just like anybody else — it's a public record. It's illegal in Arizona for an official to even require you to provide your name when you ask them for a public record, much less the reason you're asking for it.

Will it be "hacked by the Russians"? Why bother? Vladimir could just ride into F. Ann Rodriguez's office, bare-chested on his pony, and ask for it. Security isn't really a concern here. The info collected by the feds won't be controlling any elections; this isn't a "national voter database." Under the Constitution, the states hold elections. Registering voters is a function that clearly belongs to the states. The restrictions on the federal government's ability to regulate elections works against the desires of both parties. Witness the difficulties the previous administration had in dealing with state laws to limit the franchise, and previous work to expand it with via "Motor Voter"  registration efforts, and raise a glass to our checks and balances.

One last thing. If you're a Never Trumper who gleefully shared a Facebook post about how Ivanka and Eric couldn't vote for Donald in the primary because they weren't registered Republicans before the deadline had passed, check yourself. If you're a lefty who shared any of the news stories about how Tiffany Trump, Jared Kushner, Steve Bannon, Sean Spicer and Steve Mnuchin were each registered to vote in two states, ask yourself how those were reported.

Right. Reporters took a look at the public voter rolls.

Is this "terrifying" or "frightening"? Nope, it's democracy in action. Our system of government depends on the wide availability of information. Calls to restrict it are what should trouble the hell out of you.

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have your say   

3 comments on this story

Jul 17, 2017, 10:40 am
-2 +0

Different states have difference specific info that is designated “public”.  The request listed the kind of info they want for the study, so States can provide what they designate as “Public”.  The fact that they won’t give it up shows they have something to hide.  But various folks will request the info, then provide it to those looking into voter fraud.  Not that as soon as Colorado announced they would be providing the public info to the Feds, 1000s of people cancelled their registrations in Colorado.  Coincidence?  You decide…..

Jul 16, 2017, 10:27 am
-2 +2

Great.  If the monetizing of our privacy by tech Nazis and the pitiful choices we were given in the last election weren’t enough, we now have another reason not to vote.  I never authorized the Secretary of State to make my personal information available to the public.  There is such a thing as too much transparency.

Jul 3, 2017, 9:34 am
-7 +0

Dems don’t want it known that they have lots of voters registered in multiple states, so they can distort the Dem presence.  Simple.

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What's in your public voter file

Here's the information that is publicly available about each registered voter in Arizona:

  • Name in full and appropriate title
  • Party preference
  • Date of registration
  • Residence address
  • Mailing address, if different from residence address
  • Zip code
  • Telephone number if given
  • Birth year
  • Occupation if given
  • Voting history for all elections in at least the prior four years
  • Ballot requests and ballot returns for early voters

What might be in your file, but isn't available to the public:

  • Month and day of birth date
  • Social Security number or any portion thereof
  • Drivers license number or nonoperating identification license number
  • Indian census number
  • Father's name or mother's maiden name
  • State or country of birth
  • Records containing a voter's signature
  • Email address (beginning Sept. 30, 2017)

Source: ARS 16-168


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