Updated post Sept. 6, 2017, 1:30 p.m.
Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney has released public information from the Idaho voter roll to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. A records request for the data was received Aug. 31 and fulfilled by mail Sept. 5.
Original post Aug. 23, 2017, 4:01 a.m.:
One of President Donald Trump's favorite campaign riddles was the election itself: Winning would mean beating the odds, but losing would be proof the system had been rigged against him. Tweeting days after besting Hillary Clinton in the Electoral College, he wrote, "I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally."
Trump never backed up the claim, and experts, political operators and fact-checkers had a field day. His tweet may not have resonated with the press, but College of Idaho Political Economy Professor Jasper LiCalzi said it likely did with his election-skeptic supporters.
"If he's going to say there are [voting irregularities], he needs to do something about it," LiCalzi said.
Trump took action in May, establishing the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity—aka the Pence-Kobach Commission—which is collecting voter data nationwide and will report on the policies and practices that "enhance or undermine the American people's confidence in the integrity of federal elections processes." It lodged a request for information about every registered Idaho voter in June that is raising the eyebrows of Ada County Chief Deputy Clerk Phil McGrane, who runs elections in the largest county in Idaho.
"I'm confident they're looking for crosschecking," McGrane said. "I don't think this manner is the means to be able to do it."
The commission has not tipped what it will do with the data, but according to ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism project, some national observers suspect it will cross-reference data from participating states to sniff out voter fraud. The process would likely be similar to a multi-state, anti-voter fraud effort called the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which is fronted by the vice chair of the commission, Kris Kobach, who is also the secretary of state in Kansas. Idaho will participate in the Crosscheck Program in 2017.
Crosscheck scans names, dates of birth and other factors from the voter rolls of participating states, and deletes registrations it deems redundant or fraudulent. Its supporters say it fills a need for a nationwide system to sniff out illegal voting. Detractors say it's an attempt to deprive people of the right to vote. A 2016 study found Crosscheck deleted 200 registrations used to cast legitimate ballots for every registration used to cast a double ballot—disenfranchising voters living in separate states because they shared pieces of personal information.
"The risk, then, is unintentionally disenfranchising somebody..., which is why some of the protected information is being requested [by the Pence-Kobach Commission]," McGrane said.
The voter roll is the bulk of the request by the commission. It includes the full names, ages, genders, telephone numbers, party affiliations of voters and more. That information is publicly available.
Other materials included in the request are more sensitive. Of the 12 items asked for by the commission, six are not applicable to Idaho election data collection, like felony conviction information and voter history. Two are not public information: the last four digits of the Social Security numbers and dates of birth of registered voters. Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney wrote in a statement he would protect "an absolutely private ballot" in Idaho.
National groups including Electronic Privacy Information Center filed suit after learning the contents of the Pence-Kobach Commission requests. The Idaho Democratic Party filed suit July 11 on the grounds that the commission was ineligible to request voter roll data. One IDP staffer said the party also had concerns about how a database of voter information might be used by the White House.
"I feel like it's every fear of even Republicans in the [Idaho] legislature," said IDP Media & Digital Director Shelby Scott.
The IDP suit was taken out at the knees. On July 10, the day before the party filed, the commission asked Denney to delay its request as part of a separate lawsuit with the Electronic Privacy Information Center, wiping out the grounds for IDP to sue. Days later, the commission renewed its request for records.
To receive any voter data, the commission will have to do more than write a letter to Denney. According to State Elections Director Betsie Kimbrough, the Pence-Kobach Commission had yet to formally file a public records request as of Aug. 17.
"Until we get that, we will not be sending any data to them," Kimbrough said.