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Civil Rights Groups Sue Trump to Prevent Voter Information Collection

Four civil rights organizations have filed suit against the Trump administration charging that it violated federal privacy laws and is operating illegally in secret.

President Donald Trump established the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity by executive order on May 11.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who is the vice chair of the commission, sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia on June 28, asking them to submit data from their voter rolls, including voters’ political party affiliations and voting histories from 2006 onwards, as well as voters’ names, addresses and dates of birth.

This is a shoddy commission, and the stakes are high,” said Kristen Clarke, the president of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. “They seek data on more than 200 million registered voters across the country. At the least, they should be complying with federal legal requirements’ governing the commission’s functions.”

See our report ACLU Files Federal Lawsuit Over Trump Election Commission Secrecy

A second suit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union charges that “the commission was established for the purpose of providing a veneer of legitimacy to President Trump’s false claim that he won the popular vote in the 2016 election—once millions of supposedly illegal votes are subtracted from the count.”

This, says the suit, violates the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which requires from committees such as this that they convene a membership that is “fairly balanced” and shielded from outside influence.

Both suits charge that the commission has already violated the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which sets the standards for committee openness and accountability. Both groups allege that:

  • One telephone consultation that violated federal open-meeting requirements has already occurred and that the committee is holding back working papers and other documents that by law should be made available to the public.
  • Both object that the commission’s proclaimed first meeting, called for July 19th, will be viewable only on the Internet.

A third suit by Public Citizen, argues that the commission is violating the federal Privacy Act by designating the Army to collect data on voters’ registrations and voting histories and other identifying data, including partial Social Security numbers and birthdates. The group said that law barred the federal government from collecting or using any “record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment,” which covers voting and other forms of political expression.

A fourth suit was filed last week by the Electronic Privacy Information Center charging that last week’s request letter violated the 2002 E-Government Act. Under the statute, the government must publicly assess the consequences of its actions before seeking personal information stored electronically.

Public Citizen lawsuit

Public Citizen sued the U.S. Department of the Army to block the collection and dissemination of information about voters’ political parties and voting histories. The President’s Commission on Election Integrity requested that states submit such information to an Army website by July 14.

The commission is asking that states upload the information to the Department of the Army’s Safe Access File Exchange (SAFE) website.

In its suit, filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, Public Citizen alleges that the Army’s collection and dissemination of the information violates the Privacy Act, which prohibits the collection, use, maintenance or distribution of any “record describing how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.”

“The federal government should not be compiling information about citizens’ political affiliations and their exercise of the right to vote,” said Public Citizen President Robert Weissman. “Americans are right to be worried about who will gain access to the data and how it will be used. There is little doubt that the overriding purpose of the data collection effort, and of the deceptively named Commission on Election Integrity itself, is to intimidate voters, particularly people of color, and to suppress voting on a massive scale.”

“The Army’s collection of this information will violates the Privacy Act,” said Sean Sherman, the lead attorney on the case. “Immediate action is needed by the court to ensure voters’ information is protected.”

Because of the upcoming deadline and the irreparable harm that would befall Public Citizen’s members if their information was collected and disseminated, Public Citizen is requesting that the court issue a temporary restraining order. Although many states have said that they will not comply with the commission’s request, at least one state, Arkansas, has already submitted information.

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