From claims of Russian interference to the long-standing allegations of home-grown fraud where the dead come out to vote, there is little question that many Americans view our elections process with a certain degree of skepticism, if not outright suspicion. Not that most people think results are necessarily changed by various illegal practices and shenanigans, but that they do occur.
Currently, Democrats are focused on the Russians and their alleged collusion with the Trump campaign, while President Donald Trump has kept up a drumbeat that millions voted illegally – either because they were in the country illegally or voted in multiple states, etc.
And this debate isn’t new. The state-by-state fight over voter ID shows no signs of abating, with 33 states having adopted some form of voter ID law as of June 6. It is a position pushed by many Republicans, and many of the laws require presentation of an ID at the polls. New Mexico has no such law – essentially working on the honor system. So even though you have to present an ID to stay at a hotel (Homeland Security rules), you don’t have to in order to vote.
Given these claims and endless political fights, it would make sense to have a national commission actually look at data from every state, do some cross tabs and perhaps put all this to rest. Enter Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which has sent letters to all 50 secretaries of state asking for voter data.
New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver announced her refusal to cooperate even before getting the letter. And she isn’t alone. Colleagues from Connecticut to Mississippi, and from both political parties, have taken the same position. The stated reasons vary, from the federal government should mind its own business to it’s a waste of taxpayer money. And these are politicians, after all, so politics is a factor. Toulouse Oliver, whose “Team Maggie” has already put out a political piece touting her refusal and asking for support, says, “I will not release any … voter information like names, addresses and voting history unless I am convinced the information won’t be used for nefarious or unlawful purposes.” Further, she says certain information is protected by law, and for good measure tosses in the notion that all this could be used for “voter suppression.”
The last argument is a nice political talking point but the most specious. Data is data. If people are voting who aren’t entitled to – and that’s “voter suppression” – so be it.
As for the protected information claim, most of this data is considered public in New Mexico and is available for purchase by any political operative. Buyers do have to sign a statement that they won’t use if for reasons unrelated to research or elections. The secretary of state would like you to think she is going to the mat to protect the privacy of your voting history (when you voted, not whom you voted for), but if you believe that you’re wrong. It’s already for sale.
As for personal identifier information, state law says your year of birth is public. Social Security numbers are not, but surely there is a way to allow for some uniform reporting of, for example, the last four digits. Toulouse Oliver and her colleagues say they have nothing to hide, but they sure act like it.
A 2012 study by the nonprofit Pew Center for the States concluded more than 24 million voter registration records nationally – one in eight – were inaccurate or out of date. Nearly 2.8 million voters were registered in more than one state. Trump’s critics should remember he won key states like Wisconsin by margins so thin there were recounts.
So instead of turning up the political rhetoric, address the concerns once and for all. Our secretary of state and others should acknowledge the nation would benefit from having them cooperate and provide data that is already public. If that’s insufficient, then work with the commission and find a way to provide the data needed to put this question to rest.
This editorial first appeared in the Albuquerque Journal. It was written by members of the editorial board and is unsigned as it represents the opinion of the newspaper rather than the writers.