A federal judge may decide by Friday whether to block President Donald Trump’s newly created voting commission from asking states to hand over voters’ personal data.
U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly is expected to make a decision by the end of week in the lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by privacy rights group Electronic Privacy Information Center. The group requested a temporary restraining order against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach sent a letter last week to all 50 states requesting voter data, including full names, political party and the last four digits of Social Security numbers.
Though most states have refused to hand over the data, EPIC argues that the commission’s request itself is a violation of federal privacy laws.
“It’s not that they shouldn’t [request the data], it’s that they can’t,” said EPIC president Marc Rotenberg, who also represents the organization in the case. “The aim is to block the ability of the commission to seek the sensitive voter data.”
EPIC asked the judge to rule that the commission’s authority to ask for the data is unlawful, to stop further data collection and require the commission to delete any data already collected.
A spokesperson for the Justice Department declined to comment on the litigation, though the DOJ’s response to the request for a TRO is due Wednesday afternoon. EPIC will file a reply Thursday, and a ruling from the judge will likely follow.
EPIC argues that under the E-Government Act of 2002, the commission is required to produce and publish a Privacy Impact Assessment before initiating any request for personal data, which EPIC alleges the commission failed to do. The group also claims the request is a constitutional problem, alleging that in “seeking to assemble an unnecessary and excessive federal database of sensitive voter data from state records systems,” the commission is violating EPIC members’ and other citizens’ right to privacy under the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause.
Rotenberg emphasized that the group’s lawsuit is not about the politics of voter fraud or suppression, but rather about privacy rights and the rule of law. EPIC also submitted a Freedom of Information Act request Tuesday to obtain any existing records of the commission’s consultations with other government and state officials about the request.
“It’s an extraordinary and unprecedented request and we believe it raises profound privacy concerns,” Rotenberg said.
The commission, created by Trump in May via an executive order, is charged with ensuring election integrity and rooting out voter fraud.
So far, more than 40 states have declined to comply with the request. Kobach himself, as the secretary of state in Kansas, said he will not comply with the portion of the request that asks for Social Security numbers. He said his request was for publicly available information, and Social Security numbers are not made public under Kansas state law.