Liberal activists are urging people to stay registered to vote after President Donald Trump’s new election integrity commission’s request for voter data spooked some Americans and caused them to cancel their registrations.
Colorado got a burst of publicity after more than 3,700 residents canceled voter registrations, according to media reports. And while that’s a tiny percentage of total voters in the state, activists said it’s the wrong response to the federal government’s request for state voter information.
“We don’t want people to be afraid of registering — not to do so is to play into the hands of the voter suppressors,” said Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union in Colorado. “To the thousands of people who have deregistered: go reregister and bring two others.”
The voter fraud commission, which held its first public meeting on Wednesday, came under criticism from state officials when it asked for data as personal as the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers. Critics said the group might use the information to block people from voting, while others questioned the commission’s security procedures.
Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams has said he would provide the commission with data that’s already in the public record. Woodliff-Stanley said the commission requested information that is not normally part of the public record: military status, information about felonies and more.
Nicole Melaku, executive director of the Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition, said her group is urging Williams to make public statements to assure Colorado voters that their information is safe and that they should continue registering to vote.
But even one person deregistering is too many, Let America Vote’s president Jason Kander, a Democrat who ran an unsuccessful race for the U.S. Senate in 2016, said in an interview. He released a video via social media Friday that urged voters to stay registered, saying if the “data draft” intimidated voters from registering, the commission would have accomplished its goal.
“This is the first time that a president is going to create what looks like a public, national database of who voted for which party,” Kander said. “Never before could a private business with one request get this much data. But now, there’s an opportunity to hand over information to them, whether it’s a business, a criminal or a foreign government.”
He thinks states refusing to comply made the right decision. Other secretaries of states said they would provide the information if the federal government purchased their data.
Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill said, as per protocol, if the federal government shelled out $32,716.66 for the state’s 3,217,666 voters, Alabama would honor the purchase. Oregon said it would hand over some information, too, if the commission paid $500 for the state’s database.
Counting states that demanded compensation or that wouldn’t hand over nonpublic information, 44 refused to fully comply with the data request.
Other states saw small increases in voters deregistering. In Florida, requests to be removed from the voter roll were double the same time frame last year: 1,715 this year compared to 789 in 2016, said Sarah Revell, communications director at Florida’s Department of State.
Connecticut also saw more people cancel registrations than in past years, though the numbers were negligible: 243 voters deregistered in 2017, compared to 163 in the same time period a year ago, said Tina B. Prakash, special assistant to the Connecticut deputy secretary of state.
While those numbers are marginal compared to their states’ respective populations, Woodliff-Stanley of the Colorado ACLU encourages more people — whether they have deregistered or have never registered before — to vote in coming elections.
Besides, Woodliff-Stanley said, it’s not even clear whether deregistering hides your voter information — the requested voter records cover past elections, so canceling now might not make a difference.