Holly Ramer and Kevin Freking
President Donald Trump's commission on election fraud is telling states to hold off on providing detailed voter information in the face of increasing legal challenges.
The commission had given states until July 14 to provide data including names, birth dates and partial Social Security numbers, but in an email Monday, the panel's designated officer told states to hold off until a judge rules on a lawsuit filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center in Washington.
In its initial filings in that case, the commission said it planned to collect the data via a Department of Defense file exchange program. After the privacy group said that system was neither secure nor approved to collect such information, the commission said the director of White House information technology would repurpose an existing system instead, and information already sent by Arkansas through the defense department program would be deleted.
In a filing Tuesday, the privacy group updated its complaint to add the information technology director as a defendant.
"The Commission may not play 'hide the ball' with the nation's voter records," the group wrote. "With such vast demands for personal information come commensurate responsibilities to provide security and privacy, and to comply with all legal obligations. Surely that is fundamental for an organization charged with promoting 'election integrity.'"
The commission, which has until July 17 to respond to the amended complaint, has argued that there is nothing wrong with one government entity sharing public information with another and that the privacy group has not made a case that any of its members would be harmed by it.
Trump, a Republican, created the commission in May to investigate his allegations —offered without evidence — that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. The White House on Monday announced that Trump plans to add two more members: J. Christian Adams, a columnist for the conservative site PJ Media and author of a book about the "racial agenda" of President Barack Obama's administration's Justice Department; and Alan Lamar King, a probate judge in Alabama.
Democrats blast the commission as a biased panel bent on voter suppression, and 17 states and the District of Columbia are refusing to comply with the commission's request. Many others plan to provide only limited publicly available information.
At a news conference in Washington on Tuesday, Democratic lawmakers argued that the commission's aim is to suppress voting rather than to root out fraud, They said they worry the data will become a clearinghouse for hackers.
"The private information of millions and millions of American citizens would be put out there for all to see," said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., who joined other members of the Senate Judiciary Committee in sending a letter to U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions questioning whether the administration has the legal authority to request voter information.
Sen. Chris Coons, D-Del., said the central database of voter information would create a "target-rich environment for cybermeddling." He said that attention should be shifted to improving the voting infrastructure at the state and local level.
"We should together be addressing real problems," Coons said.
In addition to the lawsuit filed by the privacy group, the American Civil Liberties Union has filed lawsuits in Washington, Florida and New Hampshire. A hearing set for Tuesday in New Hampshire case was postponed in light of the commission's email.