The vice president's office put a hold on submitting information pending other litigation
The commission has been under fire since its creation
Opponents of President Donald Trump’s voting integrity commission are seeking to hamstring the effort in court, filing three lawsuits Monday that say the panel is running afoul of federal laws – and introducing Trump’s heated rhetoric against him in court.
The new lawsuits add to the legal challenges against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which recently sent a letter to all 50 states that included a request for voter roll information, including parts of Social Security numbers, that alarmed states and voters. The letter asked for all “publicly available” data, but the long list of pieces of information sought, including the last four digits of Social Security numbers, included several elements that very few states, if any, say they can legally comply with.
One lawsuit targets on the request for voter information as a violation of privacy, while the other two focus more generally on whether the commission has been violating government transparency laws.
Just as with the lawsuits against Trump’s travel bans, the challengers are using Trump’s own words and tweets to fight his administration’s actions, saying the commission was created to back up a spurious theory in the first place – that voter fraud is a massive problem in the US.
“President Trump has a long history of propagating baseless conspiracy theories about voter fraud, ostensibly in order to suppress the right to vote,” states a lawsuit from the ACLU of Florida and voters filed in a Florida federal court.
The lawsuits join an ongoing privacy case filed by advocates that sought to stop the commission’s effort to collect information on voters all across America.
That litigation has prompted the office of Vice President Mike Pence – who chairs the commission – to email secretaries of state on Monday asking them to hold off transmitting any voter data pending the resolution of that case, according to a copy of the email obtained by CNN.
The White House is also changing its plans for how to house the information in response to the complaint, according to a new court filing submitted Monday.
Pence’s office did not respond to a request for comment on the lawsuits.
Using Trump’s campaign speeches, tweets against him
While technical challenges to the law hinge on obscure federal codes like the Federal Advisory Committee Act and E-Government Act, the Florida complaint dedicates an entire section to Trump’s repeated statements about rampant voter fraud – statements that have been repeatedly debunked.
The lawsuit seeks to “prevent the unauthorized collection of state voter information data” and to prohibit the Florida secretary of state from providing the information. Lawyers for the ACLU argue that it infringes on voters’ First Amendment rights and constitutes and “unjustified invasion” of privacy in violation of federal law.
The complaint cites a string of comments from Trump as a candidate and as President.
On October 17, 2016, lawyers cite Trump as saying: “They say there’s nothing going on. People that have died 10 years ago are still voting. Illegal immigrants are voting. I mean, where are the street smarts of some of these politicians? … So many cities are corrupt, and voter fraud is very, very common.”
And after the election, on November 27, 2016, Trump said, “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.”
He later tweeted, “I will be asking for a major investigation into VOTER FRAUD, including those registered to vote in two states, those who are illegal and….even, those registered to vote who are dead (and many for a long time). Depending on results, we will strengthen up voting procedures!”
The White House has never offered evidence that illegal votes were cast in 2016 – instead creating the commission and pointing to studies that found general irregularities on voting rolls. Studies have repeatedly shown that voter fraud is exceedingly rare in the US, tending to be isolated cases and usually mistakes.
The commission has a handful of Democratic members, some of whom have said they hope the group will also look at interference in the election by Russia.
Violating transparency rules?
The national ACLU on Monday also filed a lawsuit alleging the commission violated federal transparency laws by holding an organizing call that was not public, after which Kobach sent the controversial letter.
The commission provided a read-out of that call from the vice president’s office, and have a meeting scheduled July 19 that will be livestreamed for the public. But the ACLU, which has been critical of the White House on the issue, says that’s not enough.
“The commission held its first meeting without notice or making it open to the public,” said ACLU staff attorney Theresa Lee. “This process is cloaked in secrecy, raising serious concerns about its credibility and intent. What are they trying to hide?”
A similar lawsuit was also filed Monday by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Both lawsuits, filed in Washington, DC, district court, argue the Federal Advisory Committee Act, which mandates levels of transparency for federal commissions, require more of the voting integrity group.
The new lawsuits Monday join a filing from the Electronic Privacy Information Center challenging the collection of voters’ information and another from Lawyers’ Committee arguing Kobach may have violated the Hatch Act by promoting his role in the commission in his gubernatorial campaign.
“These lawsuits show how voting rights advocates are looking for creative legal arguments to undermine the commission’s activities,” said Josh A. Douglas, an election law expert at the University of Kentucky College of Law. “It’s remarkable considering that prior election law commissions, which were seen as truly bipartisan, never faced this kind of challenge to its authority or actions.”