Sunday, July 16, 2017

Data Power

Secretary of State Kris Kobach of Kansas has a disturbing history of hosility to illegal immigration and voter rights.. So suspicion abounded when as vice-chairperson of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity he sent a letter to all 50 states requesting the "names, addresses, dates of birth, partial social security numbers, political party, a decade's worth of voter history, information on felony convictions, and whether they have registered in more than one state."

At the time

Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, argued that this letter, along with another letter sent by the Department of Justice asking for voting data from states covered by the National Voter Registration Act, is “the beginning of an effort to force unwarranted voter purges.”

“These two letters, sent on the same day, are highly suspect,” Gupta said, “and seem to confirm that the Trump administration is laying the groundwork to suppress the right to vote.”

After the 2012 election cycle, the GOP underwent an "autopsy" and determined it would have to increase its appeal to minority voters to remain highly competitive electorally. Nonetheless, it doubled down on its anti-immigration rhetoric and its appeal to white male voters at the expense of women and legal immigrants, as well as other minorities.

The strategy worked and Republicans now dominate state legislatures and hold majorities in both the US House and the US Senate and occupy the White House, the latter with a candidate who ran a shocking, aggressively anti-immigrant campaign.

But demographics cannot be denied and President Trump, who has whined about the election he won, by claiming without evidence he would have won the popular vote if not for 3-5 million ballots cast by illegal immigrants, recognized that eligible voters cannot continue to be tolerated.

Fortunately, 46 states are giving the information either partial information or none at all.  But Kobach did not accept his assignment in order to flail at windmills and come up empty.    And the data he assembles, though intended primarily for voter suppression, may be used for other purposes inimical to democracy.

Daniel Politi of Slate now has reported

People who spoke up about their concerns over privacy suddenly found key private details, including their email and sometimes even home addresses, released by none other than President Donald Trump’s administration. The presidential commission charged with investigating alleged fraud that has been plagued by controversy from the start published a 112-page document of unredacted emails of public comment on its work, which to no surprise are largely negative of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. When it published the comments, the White House didn’t remove any of the personal information, meaning many of the comments are accompanied by personal details of the person who wrote it.

Among the emails is one from a Dave Huff who notes (emphasis his) in part

So, when you call the bank, do they ask for your full social or just the last 4? So if someone wanted access to my bank account information the address, full name, dob and last four social is EXACTLY what they would need.  You will open up the entire voting population to a massive amount of fraud if this data is in any way released. Please do NOT release this information.

Release of this information exposes millions of individuals to fraud, as Huff notes. It exposes them also to ongoing harassment from tens of millions of people who are convinced that elections are- as Trump unironically put it during the campaign- "rigged."  The voter fraud fantasy is near and dear to the hearts of millions of Republican voters.

Even in the absence of release to the public, the data becomes a very potent weapon for the federal government, one which can be wielded to suppress dissent, particularly at a time of crisis such as in the aftermath of a terrorist attack.

Fortunately, it will be in good hands. It's not as if an authoritarian has taken over the U.S.government.

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