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Ensuring voter privacy not voter suppression

It isn’t often that 44 states, led by both Republican and Democratic governors and secretaries of state, carve out similar positions on any given issue. Yet that is exactly what has happened in response to a request my office (and others) received from President Trump’s so-called Commission on Election Integrity.

The commission requested the voter registration information for all Americans, including dates of birth, Social Security numbers, party affiliation, and history of military service, where permitted. As the chief election official of this state, my first priority in the face of any request for personal data is to protect New Mexico voters and their privacy.

This is exactly what I am doing in response to the commission’s request, and my position has been backed up by state election officials on both sides of the aisle, election and data experts across the country, and with strong support from our fellow New Mexicans.

In the last week, the Albuquerque Journal shared its support for a national commission that amasses the personal data of all voting Americans, including portions of Social Security numbers, and criticized my position not to release New Mexico voters’ data to the commission.

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Unfortunately, the Journal oversimplified the implications of collecting voter data by the commission and the problems that would result from comparing incomplete data, and it attempted to brush aside legitimate concerns about voter suppression efforts underway across the county – including the well-documented voter suppression work of the commission vice-chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

I, along with colleagues from across the nation, have grave concerns about the purpose of this commission and how it will use any collected data. Let’s be clear. Anyone has the right to request publicly available information from my office, and I will meet any good faith and lawful request.

But New Mexico law only allows voter information to be provided for governmental or political purposes. The commission letter states that all information provided in response to its request would be made available to the public; meaning your voter information would be available to anyone and for any purpose. That is an unlawful use of New Mexico’s voter data, and unless I can verify that your data will be protected, and no one’s privacy will be violated, I cannot comply with the commission’s request.

Election and data experts around the country know that the type of data states can publicly provide would not allow the commission to draw meaningful conclusions about whether any votes were cast illegally. It’s a violation of New Mexico law to ever share a voter’s Social Security number or birth date, and without this person-specific data, the commission would not be able to accurately or honestly compare a New Mexico voter to those in other states.

It must be acknowledged that the commission was established upon President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim of “massive voter fraud” in the 2016 general election. At one point, President Trump even referred to the commission as the “voter fraud panel.” I am not aware of a single election official in the nation – Republican or Democrat – who believes that millions of votes were cast illegally in 2016.

Further, national security experts and former officials from both sides of the aisle have been clear that Russia interfered in the 2016 election. And yet, lacking a complete understanding of the depth and breadth of Russian interference in the 2016 election and its implications for future elections, the commission has ignored this issue of fundamental importance to our Democracy and instead is focusing its efforts on creating a national voter registry. Why?

My great worry is that this commission is really a Trojan horse intended to spur additional voter suppression efforts at all levels of government. It would be a much better use of taxpayer money to find answers to actual problems that election administration officials face, including consistent underfunding of elections, increased security demands, and creating as much opportunity as possible for every eligible voter to cast a ballot in every election.

Until I get a clear explanation of how our voters’ data will be used, how it will be secured and what the commission hopes to accomplish with it, I will continue to protect the privacy rights of every New Mexican and refuse to share their data with the commission.

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