Local election officials are reporting that a federal commission’s request for personal voter information has spurred more than 3,000 Colorado voters, more than 2,000 of those in the Denver metro area alone, to withdraw their voter registration …
Local election officials are reporting that a federal commission’s request for personal voter information has spurred more than 3,000 Colorado voters, more than 2,000 of those in the Denver metro area alone, to withdraw their voter registration since July 1.
“It is the topic of the day, actually of the last week,” said Beth Clippinger, public information officer for Jefferson County Clerk and Recorder Faye Griffin, on July 10. “Citizens are pushing to not be on that list.”
In May, President Donald Trump formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, promising to find evidence of voter fraud to support his claim that millions of people voted illegally in 2016. On June 28, the commission sent a letter to all 50 secretaries of state to submit voter registration information, including dates of birth and — if available — the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.
The commission has since sent another letter, asking secretaries to wait to send the information until two lawsuits, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Privacy Information Center on June 10, are resolved.
Nonetheless, the request has led some voters in Adams, Arapahoe, Denver, Douglas and Jefferson counties to withdraw their voter registration, apply for confidential voter status or call election officials with questions about the safety of their personal data.
On June 29, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams touched off a storm of controversy when he said he would comply with the commission’s request, though he noted he would only send information that is already available.
At a July 5 news conference to clarify his comments, Williams said he’s seen no evidence that voter fraud is happening on the scale Trump alleges. But he is bound by Colorado’s Open Records Act to provide publicly available information to the commission — or anyone else who requests it.
“Many people have asked very legitimate questions about what is public, what’s not,” Williams said. “We appreciate that.”
At the conference, Williams said his office received some calls from voters asking to withdraw their registration, though doing so is unnecessary because Colorado allows people to register for confidential voter status if they fear criminal harassment or for their safety.
“We will not give the commission information that is not public in our state,” Williams said. “Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers, the specific date of your birth — all of that is confidential information that is not provided and is not available under existing Colorado law.”
But Williams’ comments haven’t stemmed the tide.
‘The impact is real’
Clippinger said that from July 1-13, 469 Jefferson County voters withdrew their voter registration and about 61 applied for confidential status.
In Adams County, 305 voters withdrew from the rolls from July 1 to July 13, and 35 applied for confidential status, according to Election Administrator Christi Coburn.
Numbers from the Clerk and Recorder’s Office in Denver County totaled 644 withdrawal requests and 251 applications for confidential status from July 1 to July 13.
“I never expected to come to work and see such a sudden increase in voter registration withdrawals,” stated Amber F. McReynolds, director of elections for the City and County of Denver, in a news release. “I never expected to see more withdrawals in a day than new registrations. The impact on voters is real. The impact on civic engagement is real.”
Douglas County Clerk and Recorder Merlin Klotz said voter fraud is an “urban legend,” but there could be value in the commission, provided it focuses on fact-finding, not politics.
“If they get strung up on political issues then forget it,” he said. “If they’re out to find 5 million illegal voters, that’s not the objective I would like to see.”
Klotz said 248 voters in Douglas County have unregistered between July 1 and July 11, though he said it could be for a number of reasons such as moving out of state. Applications for confidential status totaled 34 as of July 13.
Arapahoe County Clerk and Recorder Matt Crane said phones in his office are ringing more than usual.
“It hasn’t been an avalanche,” he said, “but we’ve definitely seen an uptick, which is unfortunate because we want people to stay engaged.”
Crane’s office reported that 434 voters asked to be unregistered and at least 83 submitted applications to become confidential voters from July 1-13. By comparison, withdrawals averaged 36 per month from January to June.
Up in the air
At least 44 states have refused to submit information that is not already available to the commission,according to media outlets, and critics from both major parties have denounced the request as an attempt to validate Trump’s claim or suppress voter turnout.
Asked about such concerns, Williams said he doesn’t have the discretion to deny the request.
“Colorado law does not allow secretaries to pick and choose based on the purity of the motives of those asking for the documents,” Williams said.
Crane didn’t question the commission’s motives. Still, he worries the process could disenfranchise legitimate voters.
“To pull all of this information from all of the states and do data-matching is incredibly difficult,” Crane said. “I haven’t seen any indication there’s an infrastructure ready to do this sort of data-matching. (That) could lead to false positives and it appearing that people are double-registered and legitimate voters being kicked off voter rolls.”
Crane also mentioned that Colorado, the District of Columbia and 21 other states participate in the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit formed by those states that uses information from motor vehicle departments, Social Security Administration records and other databases to compare voters across states.
“This work is already being done by experts,” he said. “It’s something that’s probably best left to the experts.”
In a July 14 letter to Kobach, Williams also touted ERIC as a better means to eliminate redundancies in voter registration records than the request for data issued by the commission.
Important to ‘remain engaged’
Asked if he’s concerned about voters dropping off the rolls, Williams touted Colorado’s many methods of voter registration, and registration.
“It’s one of the easiest, if not the easiest state to register to vote in,” he said, mentioning that new voters as well as those who withdraw their registration can go online or use their cellphones to register.
Clippinger shared Williams’ lack of concern.
“I don’t think anybody will forget to re-register,” Clippinger said. “It’s heavy on their mind.”
But Crane said he is concerned that people will “fall away” from voter participation and urged his constituents to stay on the rolls.
“Remain calm,” he said. “Stay engaged.”