The American Civil Liberties Union filed a federal lawsuit Monday in Miami seeking to prevent President Donald Trump’s voter-fraud commission from collecting voter data it is seeking from all 50 states.
The lawsuit was filed against the Presidential Advisory Commission for Voter Integrity, along with Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, chair and vice chair of the commission, as well as Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner.
ACLU of Florida Executive Director Howard Simon said in a statement that the data request from the Trump commission is unprecedented.
“Never before has an agency of the federal government, operating behind closed doors, attempted to amass a federal database of every voter in America,” he said in a statement accompanying the lawsuit filed in the Miami federal court. “This goes beyond any authority the Commission has under the Constitution, federal law, or even the executive order President Trump issued to establish it.”
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Trump, who has made repeated unproven claims of widespread voter fraud, ordered the formation of the commission in May.
Democratic politicians and candidates have urged Detzner to not comply with the Trump commission’s request for data. Nationwide, most state officials have said they will either not comply or will turn over only some of the requested information.
The commission sent a letter on June 28 to state election officials asking them to hand over a long list of information “if publicly available under the laws of your state,” including voters’ names, registration status, political party affiliation, voting history, partial Social Security numbers and other information by July 14.
But that effort appears to be on hold due to a separate lawsuit filed in Washington, D.C., by the Electronic Privacy Information Center. The commission sent an email to election officials Monday stating that as a result of that lawsuit, states should hold off on submitting any data until the judge rules on a temporary restraining order.
Detzner announced Thursday that the state will provide the data that is publicly available, but will not hand over any private information on voters including driver license numbers or Social Security information.
Detzner’s spokeswoman, Sarah Revell, reiterated in a statement Monday that he won’t share private data:
“We will only provide public records, which is exactly what the law requires us to do. The security of Floridians’ personal information is very important and that is why we will only be sharing information that is already public record — this information is already regularly given out to anyone who makes a public records request to the state. We absolutely will not provide any information that is not already publicly available. The responsibility for the accuracy and fairness of our elections process in Florida lies with us, not with the federal government in Washington, D.C.”
Although Detzner previously said he won’t disclose social security or driver’s license numbers, the ACLU lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent him from disclosing that data. It also seeks to halt the defendants from collecting personal voter data and to halt the work of the commission. The plaintiffs also asked the court to require the commission to conduct a privacy impact assessment prior to the collection of personal voter data.
Chris H. Chambless, past president of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections and the Clay County elections supervisor, said Detzner’s response was consistent with Florida statutes. He said many voters are unaware that much of the information about their voter registration is a public record.
Additional plaintiffs along with the ACLU include former Democratic state Sen. Arthenia Joyner; Tampa City Councilman Mike Suarez; Broward County voter Joshua A. Simmons; Miami-Dade County voter Brenda Shapiro; Miami-Dade County Voter Luis Meurice, and the Florida Immigrant Coalition. The lawsuit doesn’t identify the party of the plaintiffs, but Ben Kuehne, one of the plaintiff lawyers, said he believed that the individual voters are Democrats or independents.
Joyner called the commission “a smoke-screen for efforts to advance policies designed to suppress the right to vote.”
The lawsuit claims that the commission’s data request will leave voters open to fraud and identity theft because the website provided by the Presidential Advisory Commission for the transmission of voter registration data and information is a non-secure site. It also alleges that the commission overstepped its authority and didn’t provide proper notice about meetings.
“The Executive Order does not empower the Presidential Advisory Commission to amass and centralize a federal database of voters and then publicize it,” the lawsuit states. “Nowhere in the Constitution or through Acts of Congress is the Executive granted or delegated any power to amass and centralize a national database of voters that includes party affiliation, voting history, social security numbers, military history, criminal history, address, or any other of the personal data the Presidential Advisory Commission requested.”
Detzner has not indicated any widespread election fraud during the 2016 election. In fact, in his initial response to Kobach he wrote that the 2016 election in Florida had a “smooth, secure election.”