In an uploaded video, CNN claims most states “oppose” and will “refuse” a voter data request by an election commission from President Donald Trump’s administration. It ran with the original headline, “44 States Refuse Trump’s Voter Info Request.” Its video segment featured the caption, “40+ States Oppose Trump Admin Request For Voter Data.”
According to CNN, any state that will not provide sensitive, non-public voter data like social security numbers has refused the commission’s request. However, the panel only requested public voter information and most states have not refused to provide this data.
In May, Trump established the Election Integrity Commission with the stated goal of investigating voter fraud. The panel sent letters to states last week requesting information including names, addresses, political party, partial social security numbers, voter history and other data on registered voters.
States generally make public certain information about their voters. “State law for decades has allowed anyone to review voter lists to ensure election integrity,” said Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson’s office in a Facebook post. “As in Michigan, similar laws in almost all states make this basic voter information a public record.”
But state laws usually keep private certain sensitive information like social security or driver’s license numbers. Different states have different definitions of what constitutes sensitive, non-public information.
Many states have expressed concerns over privacy and have reaffirmed that non-public information will not be shared with the commission. “Michigan will certainly not go beyond what is legally required in any response to this data request, and we are highly sensitive to people’s desires to keep what is private as private,” said Johnson’s office.
But even as states decline to provide non-public voter data, most acknowledge that voter rolls are available to the public for non-commercial purposes. As a result, even some states that oppose the request won’t refuse to give the commission public voter data.
“My response to the Commission is, you’re not going to play politics with Louisiana’s voter data,” said Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler. “And if you are, then you can purchase the limited public information available by law, to any candidate running for office. That’s it.”
This “limited public information” includes the name, party, age, sex, race, address and phone number of voters, among other data.
The decision by states not to provide sensitive information is not a refusal to comply as CNN claims because the commission never sought non-public information. “We’re not asking for it if it’s not publicly available,” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who serves as the vice chair of the commission, told The Kansas City Star. CNN grossly inflates the number of states that have refused.
CNN also exaggerates the number of states that “oppose” the data request. Some states have vocally objected, citing reasons ranging from attempted voter suppression to federal overreach. But CNN includes in its list of 44 “opposing” states those that are openly sympathetic to the commission as well, including Colorado, Missouri and South Carolina.
Some of CNN’s headlines have been more accurate. “Forty-Four States Have Refused To Give Certain Voter Information To Trump Commission,” reads one headline. However, CNN still falsely implies that states overwhelmingly refuse to cooperate.
In reality, most states have not refused the data request. Kobach declared Wednesday that 14 states had refused and called news reporting by outlets like CNN “patently false, more ‘fake news.'”
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