• Advertisement

Lawsuit Filed By Civil Rights Lawyers To Stop Election Commission

Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law Files Lawsuit To Halt Commission Hearing for Failure to Comply With Federal Law

Lawsuit Also Demands Release of Information About the Commission Under Key Government Transparency Law

WASHINGTON, D.C. – The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (Lawyers’ Committee) on Monday filed a lawsuit against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for its failure to operate in a transparent manner under the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA).

The suit comes after the Commission failed to respond to a Lawyers’ Committee request sent one week ago for documents regarding the Commission’s upcoming July 19th meeting—a meeting that will not be open to the public.  In its suit, the Lawyers’ Committee alleges the Commission’s failure to disclose communications and make its meetings open to the public violates FACA.

“We filed today’s lawsuit because the so-called Election Integrity Commission has been operating covertly and its actions, to date, have been shrouded in secrecy,” said Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.  “Through the Federal Advisory Committee Act, we are using an important statutory tool to expose and curb the illegitimacy of this Commission and to bar the commencement of any meetings before they make materials available for our inspection.  In our view, the Commission must not conduct any meetings before complying with our request.  We will continue to fight to expose all of the Commission’s illegitimate actions.”

Monday’s lawsuit filed with co counsel Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer LLP in the United States District Court for District of Columbia addresses the Commission’s lack of transparency on several fronts.  It notes that the Commission’s upcoming July 19thmeeting will not be open to the public, and exposes the Commission’s lack of oversight and accountability given that its unprecedented request for personal voter data was not accurately directed at statewide officials nor was it in compliance with many state privacy laws.  The lawsuit additionally notes that the Commission failed to provide public notice or disclose details regarding its June 28th telephone conference meeting, during which the commission, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, approved a plan to request an unprecedented amount of voter data from statewide election officials.

The suit seeks a temporary restraining order mandating the production of records before the July 19th meeting, blocking the July 19thmeeting until the Commission fulfills its obligations to disclose its documents, and ordering that all commission meetings be open to the public.

“Federal law demands that the President’s Commissions operate in an open and transparent manner.  That principle is of paramount importance when, as here, the Commission seeks to impact the fundamental right to vote.  We are proud to stand with the Lawyers’ Committee in this fight,” said Arnold & Porter Kaye Scholer partner John A. Freedman.

On Monday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a corresponding FACA lawsuit in the D.C. District Court.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law has undertaken a series of comprehensive actions to challenge the Pence-Kobach Commission.  This includes: the launch of a hotline for the public to report instances of voter suppression (866-OUR-VOTE); letters sent to Secretaries of State demanding they not comply with Mr. Kobach’s request for voter roll data; filing a Hatch Act complaint against Mr. Kobach regarding his repeated exploitation of his Commission role to solicit campaign contributions and promote his candidacy for Governor of Kansas; requesting documents regarding the Commission made pursuant to the Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA); and urging Secretaries of State to adopt a bipartisan resolution condemning the so-called Election Integrity Commission.

To read the complaint filed Monday, click here.

ACLU of NH Sues To Block Secretary Of State From Disclosing Statewide Voter Information

The American Civil Liberties Union of New Hampshire today sued to bar the New Hampshire Secretary of State William Gardner from illegally disclosing statewide information concerning New Hampshire voters.  The complaint can be found attached below.

On Friday, June 30, 2017, Secretary Gardner agreed to produce to the recently-created Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity (the “Commission”) statewide information concerning over 984,000 registered voters’ names, domicile and mailing addresses, and party affiliation, if any. This response ignored New Hampshire laws that place strict and binding requirements on how the State is to produce voter information.  (See RSA 654:31)

“The legislature carefully designed strict restrictions on the sharing of voter information for good reason: to protect voter privacy,” stated Representative Neal Kurk (R-NH), a plaintiff in the lawsuit. “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.”

Representative Kurk was involved in the crafting of the relevant statutes under RSA 654:31, which limit the prospect of mass dissemination of this statewide voter information in order to ensure that statewide voter information is only used for political purposes, not for commercial gain. (RSA 654:31(VI) explicitly prohibits voter information from being used for commercial purposes.)

“The Secretary of State has no statutory authority to release a copy of the statewide public checklist to anyone other than a political party, political committee, or candidate for New Hampshire office,” stated Senator Betty Lasky (D-NH), another plaintiff in the case.

RSA 654:31(II)-(III) only allows requesters to: (i) view the statewide public checklist on the statewide centralized voter registration database at the state records and archives center during normal business hours where requesters are prohibited from printing, duplicating, transmitting, or altering the data and (ii) obtain hard copies of the public checklist from local municipalities on a town-by-town/ward-by-ward basis at a fee of at least $25 per municipality or ward.

“The Commission is not entitled to special, unwritten exemptions from the Secretary of State that circumvent New Hampshire law,” stated Gilles Bissonnette, Legal Director of the ACLU of NH. “He must apply the law to the Commission no differently than he would apply the law to a regular member of the public seeking this information.”

The lawsuit, Kurk v. Gardner, seeks to bar the Secretary of State from disclosing this information without full compliance with New Hampshire law. It was filed in Hillsborough Superior Court South.

FINAL Filed Complaint (1)

Election Integrity Commission Wants Access To Our Personal Voter Information, Sununu Agrees

The Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity, led by Kansas Secretary of State, Kris Kobach just sent a letter to all 50 Secretaries of State to gain access to personal information on registered voters.   Kocach is also inquiring from the Secretaries of State to provide details of possible voter fraud cases, law changes to “protect voter integrity,” and how the commission can do to “support local and state election administrators with regard to information technology security and vulnerabilities.”

The letter, made public by the Connecticut Secretary of State, Denise Merrill, shows exactly what “personal information” Kobach is requesting.

“In order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly- available voter roll data for Connecticut, 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 biggest catch is that “any documents that are submitted to the full Commission will also be made available to the public” warned Kobach.

This idea is not sitting well with many people, including Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law.

“We fully condemn actions taken today by the President’s Election Integrity Commission seeking disclosure of data and personal information on virtually every voter across the country.  This meritless inquisition opens the door for a misguided and ill-advised Commission to take steps to target and harass voters and could lead to purging of the voter rolls.

We urge Secretaries of State who received a letter from Kris Kobach to reject this request and discourage state and local officials from participating in this Commission’s dangerous activities.

Today’s action underscores the fact that the Election Integrity Commission is operating in a reckless manner and its activities threaten to have a chilling effect on minority voters

We encourage the public to contact 866-OUR-VOTE to report complaints or any suspicious activity regarding the activities of the Election Integrity Commission.

We know that voting discrimination and voter suppression are the real threats to American democracy and we will resist the Commission’s attempt to divert federal resources and attention away from these problems.”

 

Multiple reports have concluded that in-person voter impersonation is extremely rare.  There have only been four cases in the last ten years of confirmed voter fraud with hundreds of thousands of votes cast. However this did not stop President Trump from claiming that millions voted illegally.

NH’s Secretary of State Bill Gardner has made clear—as recently as the February 14, 2017 edition of the Concord Monitor—that he has found no proof supporting President Trump’s baseless allegation that thousands of Massachusetts residents were bused to New Hampshire to cast ballots against him.  Secretary Gardner’s office also has repeatedly said—correctly—that there is no widespread voter fraud here.

Today on MSNBC, NH’s Governor Sununu said he would “comply” with the federal government’s Presidential Commission on Voting Integrity’s request for voter information.

 

The act of handing over certain confidential voter information is illegal under New Hampshire state law, specifically RSA 654:31-a. Since no individual instances of voter fraud are being investigated by the commission, state law prohibits Governor Sununu or Secretary of State Bill Gardner from disclosing birthdates or social security information, as Kobach requested. This information is maintained by the Secretary of State’s Office and the governor has no authority under state law to authorize its release.

“It is disappointing that Governor Sununu has chosen the Trump administration’s unwarranted request over the privacy of Granite Staters. He is once again falling in line behind President Trump and pledging to hand over our highly personal information to a federal government commission created at best to soothe the President’s ego, and at worst, undermine the integrity of our elections and disenfranchise millions of voters,” said NHDP Chair Ray Buckley. “It is outrageous that Governor Sununu is characteristically shooting from the hip rather than taking the time to understand what is best for the citizens of New Hampshire. Granite Staters will hold Sununu accountable for putting the privacy of our most personal information at risk to once again cozy up to the Trump administration and its dangerous effort to combat a problem that doesn’t exist.”

Gilles Bissonnette, legal director of the ACLU of New Hampshire, told the New Hampshire Union Leader, “there are strict state laws limiting how much information about voter files can be turned over or made public.”

“We expect that the secretary of state will not honor any request to produce information that is private and confidential. Any transfer of information must be in full compliance with all state disclosure laws. The Commission should not be able to obtain information that is unavailable to any ordinary member of the public.

Unfortunately, this Commission likely will be a pretext to enact new restrictions on the right to vote. Led by Mr. Kobach1, it is based on the false premise that there was widespread voter fraud last November. Yet New Hampshire conducts fair, honest, and democratic elections, and there is no evidence of significant voter fraud here. The Secretary of State’s Office2 and the Governor3 have both repeatedly acknowledged that there is no widespread voter fraud in the Granite State. Once again, our expectation is that, while on this Commission, Secretary Gardner will only join conclusions in the Commission’s final report that support voting rights and are based on actual proven facts.”

Congresswoman Carol Shea-Porter (NH-01) today urged New Hampshire to deny the Trump Election Commission’s request for personal voter data. In a letter to Governor Chris Sununu and to Secretary Gardner, who is a member of the Commission, Shea-Porter asked the state to join five others that have already denied the frivolous and intrusive request.

Shea-Porter wrote:

“I write to urge you to deny the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity’s request for the personal information of every registered New Hampshire voter. In a letter addressed to you, the Commission requested the name, last four Social Security digits, birthdate, political affiliation, address, military status, and voting history of nearly one million Granite Staters. Secretary Gardner, as a member of the Commission, it is imperative that you both deny this request and inform your fellow members that this misguided effort is unacceptable and deeply troubling.

“As you know, we Granite Staters greatly value our privacy rights. We are the “Live Free or Die” state, and this request is undoubtedly an assault on our freedom. This request violates the privacy of our state’s residents and represents an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into our state’s electoral data. California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Oklahoma, and Virginia have already refused this request. The New Hampshire Chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union has indicated that full compliance with this request would violate our state’s laws governing the public disclosure of voter information.

“In closing, I urge you to shield New Hampshire voters from this historic federal intrusion into law-abiding Americans’ right to privacy whose only “offense” was exercising their Constitutional right to vote. This could further dampen participation in our elections. Therefore, it is necessary for you both to publicly reassure our state’s voters that you will not comply with the Trump Commission’s demand.”

Contact Governor Sununu and urge him not to comply with Kobach’s request and to keep our personal information, private.

Kobach’s full letter to Connecticut Sec of State is attached below.


UPDATE 7-1-17

NHPR reports that Sec Gardner will comply with the request made by Kobach and the Election Integrity commission.

Faced with a flurry of questions from the press and the public about the state’s response, Gardner said he wanted to emphasize that some of the information mentioned in the letter — like social security numbers — won’t be provided to the commission because it’s not part of New Hampshire’s public voter checklists.

“What is public is what has been public for decades. In this state, every town and city clerk must keep every checklist they use in an election for at least five years so that any citizen can go in and look at the checklists,” Gardner said in an interview Friday afternoon in his office, where staffers spent the day fielding calls about the state’s plans to participate in the request.

“Checklists have always included names, addresses and party affiliation, if there is a party affiliation. So that’s all that’s being asked of us.”

PEIC Letter to Connecticut
  • Subscribe to the NH Labor News via Email

    Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 219 other subscribers

  • Advertisement

  • Advertisement