Voting panel asks for states to delay sending info

  • FILE - In this Nov. 4, 2015, file photo Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump talks with New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner, left, before filing papers to be on the nation's earliest presidential primary ballot, at the Secretary of State's office in Concord, N.H. Gardner has been defending the request for detailed voter information from the Trump administration's commission on voter fraud. Gardner, a member of the commission, plans to provide publicly-accessible information, though critics argue state law allows the entire database to be provided only to political parties, political committees and candidates. Gardner is facing criticism for his decision, including from residents who inundated his office with calls. (AP Photo/Jim Cole, File)

Washington Post
Tuesday, July 11, 2017

President Donald Trump’s voting commission on Monday asked states and the D.C. to hold off submitting the sweeping voter data the panel had requested until a federal judge in Washington decides whether the White House has done enough to protect Americans’ privacy.

The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a watchdog group, has asked U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly to block the commission’s data request, arguing that the panel had not conducted the full privacy impact statement required by federal law for new government electronic data-collection systems.

Separately Monday, two civil liberties groups filed lawsuits to prevent the commission from holding its first scheduled meeting next week, alleging that the panel had been working in secret and in violation of government regulations on transparency.

The two new lawsuits add to the potential roadblocks faced by the commission, whose request for voting information from more than 150 million registered voters has drawn bipartisan criticism across the states as an assault on privacy and states’ rights and a stealth attempt at voter suppression.

At least 44 states have indicated that they won’t provide all of their voter data, with some saying they will provide nothing and others turning over what they can under state laws.

Vice President Mike Pence’s office said last week that 20 states have agreed to share at least some data and 16 more are reviewing the request.

In asking the states to hold back on sending information, the White House also said it would delete the data already sent in by Arkansas, the only state so far to comply.

Government lawyers also said in a court filing that the White House was scrapping plans to use a Pentagon-operated website to accept the data and had designed a new system inside the White House to take the submissions.

The redesign came four days before the July 14 deadline the commission set for the states.

Government lawyers have defended the commission’s effort, saying that it is a presidential advisory panel, not a federal agency subject to privacy requirements; that it is requesting data that is already publicly available; and that it would “de-identify” or make anonymous sensitive information before releasing documents.

In a 4 p.m. filing Monday to Kollar-Kotelly, Justice Department officials said the federal officer responsible for administering the commission, Andrew Kossack, had emailed states at 9:40 a.m. Monday asking that they “not submit any data until this Court rules.”

The filing also said that the White House information technology director was “repurposing an existing” internal White House system that regularly accepts sensitive personal information to be ready to accept records by 6 p.m. Monday, instead of using the Defense Department site. The commission initially designated the Army site to take in records, which White House personnel had planned to then download to their own computer system.

Trump’s May 11 executive order creating the commission stated that it would be funded and staffed through the General Services Administration, which like the Army is a federal agency subject to privacy requirements. But last week in court, the commission said it would not be using the GSA but planned to use a Pentagon system as a bridge to what would be the ultimate repository for the data at the White House.