With new concerns about hacking, more states reject Trump’s unprecedented request for voter data

The number of states refusing to hand over voting data climbs as cyber experts warn of potential hacking vulnerabilities.

Voters cast their ballots at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise, Idaho, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger
Voters cast their ballots at Cynthia Mann Elementary School in Boise, Idaho, on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. CREDIT: AP Photo/Otto Kitsinger

Public concern over privacy and security continues to mount as the number of states refusing to hand over citizens’ data for the Trump administration’s voter-fraud commission increases.

The White House sent letters to all 50 secretaries of state requesting the data last week. Since then, officials from at least 44 states have come forward pushing back or outright refusing to deliver voter information, which includes names, addresses, dates of birth, the last four digits of social security numbers, and complete voting histories.

“They don’t want a national voter registration database the same way they don’t want a national gun database,” said Kentucky’s secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes on CNN’s New Day Monday. “Importantly, the timing with which this request has come to secretaries across the United States is suspect especially during a week when the president has started his re-election campaign.”

As states fight for citizens’ privacy, cybersecurity experts say transmitting such information poses a major security risk.


Nicholas Weaver, a computer science professor at University of California at Berkeley, told Politico the request was “beyond stupid.”

The Center for Democracy and Technology’s chief technologist Joe Hall said the combination of sending a trove of data over insecure email (which was one of the options listed) and the sheer amount of data makes it an appetizing target for hackers.

“The bigger the purse, the more effort folks would spend to get at it,” he told Politico. “And in this case, this is such a high-profile and not-so-competent tech operation that we’re likely to see the hacktivists and pranksters take shots at it.”

The data is also particularly valuable — and vulnerable — because it can be linked with previously stolen data from other breaches and hacks. Additionally, the aggregation of such voter data could violate the constitution. The Electronic Privacy Information Center, a privacy advocacy group in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit Monday claiming the president’s commission violates citizens Fifth Amendment right to informational privacy as well as the Administrative Procedure Act, which governs how federal agencies propose and establish regulations.

The voter-fraud commission “has no authority to investigate or to gather state voter records. There is nothing that would justify the immediate collection of this voter data,” EPIC wrote in its complaint. “The integrity of state voting systems is of paramount importance and should not be put at risk at the whim of the commission members.”

The complaint also challenges the commission’s request for states to send personal data over an insecure website.

The Trump administration’s voter-fraud commission has been criticized for falsely stating that such fraud is widespread. Before his election, President Donald Trump claimed the election was rigged if he were to lose. He doubled down on the claim despite winning the electoral vote after learning that he lost the popular vote to Democratic opponent Hillary Clinton by 2.8 million votes.


The voter fraud myth has been a widespread tactic among conservatives to build support for other policy issues. For example, Fox and Friends’ host Ainsley Earhardt claimed 5.7 million “illegal immigrants” voted in the 2008 presidential election. A study by Harvard University’s Cooperative Congressional Election Study evaluating the 2008 election found that only 1 percent of respondents identified as non-citizens with just a tenth of them saying they voted.

Overall, research shows that voter fraud is rare. A recent study by the Brennan Center for Justice found that voter fraud had a negligible incidence rate between 0.0003 percent and 0.0025 percent.

Trump responded to states resisting his voter-fraud directive in a tweet Saturday saying that by not cooperating, states had something to hide.

“Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?”

Kentucky’s secretary of state Grimes said the real question is, what does the president — and the federal government at large — gain from collecting bulky personal data?

“Elections are something that are specifically left to the states especially when we’re talking about voter registration,” Grimes said. “The question put to not only secretaries across the nation but to Americans is, if the president asked for not only your name and address, but your date of birth, your party affiliation, your entire voting history, and your last four digits of your social security number — would you want to give it over to not only the president but the federal government?”

The answer, as she put it, is simply no.

This post has been updated to include information about a new privacy lawsuit filed by the privacy advocacy group Electronic Privacy Information Center, which claims the voter commission violates the Fifth Amendment. The number of states refusing to comply with the voter commission has also been updated from 29 to 44.