Donald Trump’s decision to shutter a contentious voter fraud panel has turned into campaign fodder for the Democratic lawmaker hoping to replace Republican Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske.
Democratic Assemblyman Nelson Araujo, running to take on Cegavske in the 2018 election, aimed a broadside at the Republican earlier this week after President Donald Trump announced he would dissolve the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity formed earlier in 2017.
In a statement issued Wednesday, Araujo took aim at Cegavske and said she should “never have agreed to participate in this sham commission.”
“Even the Republican secretary of state of Mississippi opposed this obvious attempt at voter disenfranchisement and told the Trump administration to 'go jump in the Gulf,' yet Secretary Cegavske willingly agreed to give away voters' private, personal data for the sake of partisan political gain,” he said in the statement.
Trump announced that he would dissolve the commission on Wednesday, saying that despite “substantial evidence” of voter fraud, many states had refused to provide the requested voter information.
“Rather than engage in endless legal battles at taxpayer expense, today I signed an executive order to dissolve the Commission,” he said in a statement.
To be clear, despite Trump’s claims there is no legitimate evidence of widespread voter fraud in any state occurring during the 2016 election. But Araujo’s claim that Cegavske “gave away” the personal data of Nevadans to the president is misleading and ignores the office’s requirements under Nevada’s public records laws.
Trump created the election integrity commission in May 2017, and appointed Vice President Mike Pence as chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a staunch proponent of stricter voting identification laws, as the commission’s vice chair.
In a form letter sent to all 50 states by Kobach, the commission requested from each state publicly-available voter information including: “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party, last four digits of social security number if available, voter history 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.”
That’s quite a bit of information to request, and many states pushed back against the commission’s ask — all states that responded to the commission considered partial Social Security numbers to be private, and many considered other information such as birth dates and party affiliation to be private information.
According to a CNN tally, only three states — Colorado, Missouri and Tennessee — supported Kobach’s request, while 19 others openly criticized the request and four — New Mexico, Michigan, South Carolina and West Virginia — said they wouldn’t provide any information to the commission.
Despite the uproar, few states fully blocked Kobach or the commission from viewing publicly available voter data, which typically includes information such as name, address, date of birth and whether the person voted in the last campaign.
That’s essentially what Nevada Secretary of State Barbara Cegavske decided to do — her office released a statement in June stating that while the request “understandably” raised privacy concerns, her office is prohibited by law from withholding voter registration information from the public, including the commission.
However, her office stated that it would not be giving out personal data, including Social Security numbers, driver's license numbers, DMV identification numbers and email addresses.
Email exchanges supplied by Wayne Thorley, the deputy secretary of state for elections, to The Nevada Independent back up what Cegavske’s office has previously stated. Throley declined the commission’s request for the office to send them the voter information and instead outlined instructions as to how the information could be accessed.
“The Nevada public voter list is available for free; however, our office will not be sending the voter list to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity,” Thorley wrote in the July email. “Instead, the Commission can download the list from our website just as any other member of the public can do.”
Though it took several months, the commission did eventually register with the secretary of state’s office in September and requested permission to download the data set. (We’ve attached copies of the email and the commission’s registration with the secretary of state's office below.)
In response to a follow up statement by The Nevada Independent, Araujo’s campaign pointed out several other secretaries of state that declined to submit information to the commission, and said Cegavske should have had the “backbone” to question the motives of the commission and Trump.
“The majority of Secretaries of State, Republicans and Democrats alike, spoke out to reject President Donald Trump’s political overreach and many refused to hand over their constituents' personal information,” he said in a follow up statement to The Nevada Independent.
However, all states either offer statewide data on registered voters to interested parties, although several place restrictions on who can request the data or how much it can cost. A 2015 analysis by the U.S. Elections Project found that a politically oriented nonprofit could purchase publicly available voter data in every state excluding Maine and Maryland, though the cost would be more than $135,000.
More roadblocks exist for citizens, who can purchase or obtain publicly available voter info in every state minus Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts and New Hampshire, as long as the stated reason is political or related to a campaign. Additionally, only residents of Minnesota or New Jersey can obtain their respective state’s voter roll, and Minnesota and South Carolina require an individual to be a registered voter before obtaining voting information.
Nevada, on the other hand, makes it straightforward for anyone to obtain publicly available voting information. All a person or organization has to do is register for a free online account on the secretary of state’s website, then submit a request to access the statewide voter registration list.
Nevada law allows individuals to request their personal information be taken off the registration list, but Thorley said less than 1 percent of voters request to have that information removed.
Thorley said the office couldn’t have stopped the commission from accessing the information, even if it tried, and that an attempt would likely violate the state public records law.
“There’s no way we could have, or even would have, tried to stop them from accessing the data file,” he said. “It’s a public record, we don’t look at the motives of people requesting public records.”
Thorley also disagreed with the assertion that Cegavske participated in the commission, given that she wasn’t one of the 15 members of the entity, and didn’t directly hand over any data to the commission.
Democratic secretary of state candidate Nelson Araujo attacked Cegavske for participating in the Trump administration’s election integrity commission and having “willingly agreed to give away voters' private, personal data for the sake of partisan political gain.”
Regardless of how one feels about the shuttered election integrity commission, it’s not accurate to blame Cegavske for following Nevada law and providing publicly available information to the commission. Anyone — political parties, candidates, regular people — can request this data, and it’s unclear just how the secretary of state could have stopped the commission from accessing it without raising questions about violating the public records law.
Araujo’s statement just isn’t true. It earns our first-ever All Hat, No Abe rating.