Voter records are public records
After the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity asked all 50 states to provide publicly accessible voter registration data, outrage spread like wildfire. Many governors and secretaries of state, hoping not to get burned, balked at the request. In the process, they conveniently ignored their public records laws.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams took a more measured course. He might be a little overly optimistic about the value of the commission’s work, but he responded to the records request by saying he would follow Colorado law. Registered voters’ name, home address, party affiliation, birth year, phone number (if provided) and whether they voted in past elections are all public records in Colorado. Anyone can have them, even members of a presidential commission.
President Donald Trump formed the commission to root out massive voter fraud. He believes, but has offered no evidence, that millions of people voted illegally in 2016, giving Hillary Clinton a popular vote victory if not an Electoral College one.
At best, the commission is on a wild goose chase. At worst, it is based on a lie. Study after study has found that voter fraud is exceedingly rare. At worst, it is laying the groundwork for voter suppression.
Yet Vice President Mike Pence, who chairs the commission, and his team of voter fraud conspiracy theorists want to dig into the voter records. Hence the letter to states.
Many of the states that have refused to comply cite the same sorts of concerns as California Secretary of State Alex Padilla. “California’s participation would only serve to legitimize the false and already debunked claims of massive voter fraud,” he said.
Perhaps California’s open government laws give their elected officials the right to pick and choose whose request is acceptable and whose is not.
In Colorado, like most states, why someone wants a record is almost always irrelevant. All that matters is that the record is public. Anyone from a blogger in Boulder to the president’s commission can receive Colorado voter registration records.
Secretary of State Williams will follow the law, as he should. We encourage him to charge a reasonable fee for producing the records, just like Colorado officials do when regular people ask for records. He also should make sure to transmit the records securely, not just in an insecure email as the commission asked.
Not everything that Trump’s election commission sought is public. For example, partial Social Security numbers are exempt from disclosure in Colorado. Withholding those exempt records is right in any state, but a blanket refusal goes too far.
Coloradans who don’t want their voter registration records shared with the Trump administration or anyone else can request confidentiality. In order to qualify, one must believe that a member of one’s household will be subject to criminal harassment or bodily harm because the record is publicly available. Just visit your county clerk’s office in person and complete the form. If you do so quickly, you might qualify before records are pulled for the presidential commission.
Withholding public records simply because you don’t like the president or because he is investigating election fraud sets a terrible precedent and is perhaps illegal.