Four things happened yesterday that pose a grave danger to voting rights.
1. The House Appropriations Committee voted to defund the Election Assistance Commission, the only federal agency that helps states make sure their voting machines aren’t hacked. The House Administration Committee previously voted to kill the EAC in February, but yesterday’s vote makes it one step closer to reality—practically inviting Russia to try to hack our elections again. Russian hackers targeted election systems in 21 states in 2016, according to intelligence officials. The $4 million funding request for the EAC is less than the cost of two trips by Donald Trump to Mar-a-Lago.
2. The Department of Justice sent a letter to all 50 states informing them that “we are reviewing voter registration list maintenance procedures in each state covered by the NVRA [National Voter Registration Act]” and asking how they plan to remove voters from the rolls. While this might sound banal, it’s a clear instruction to states from the federal government to start purging the voting rolls. “Let’s be clear what this letter signals: DOJ Civil Rights is preparing to sue states to force them to trim their voting rolls,” tweeted Sam Bagenstos, the former deputy assistant attorney general for civil rights in the Obama administration. There’s a very long and recent history of Republican-controlled states’ purging their voting rolls in inaccurate and discriminatory ways—for example, Florida’s disastrous purge of alleged ex-felons in 2000 could have cost Al Gore the election—and it’s especially serious when the Department of Justice forces them to do it.
3. The White House commission on election integrity, led by vice chair Kris Kobach, also sent a letter to 50 states asking them to provide sweeping voter data including “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.” While Kobach asked for “publicly-available voter roll data,” much of this information, like someone’s Social Security number or military status, is, in fact, private. Never before has a White House asked for such broad data on voters, and it could be easily manipulated by Trump’s commission. Kobach has a very well-documented record of making wildly misleading claims about voter fraud and enacting policies that sharply limit access to the ballot in his home state of Kansas. He’s been sued four times by the ACLU for voter suppression and was sanctioned by a federal court last week for “deceptive conduct and lack of candor.”