West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner has yet to receive a letter from a presidential commission requesting personal data on every registered voter in the state, but a spokesman from his office said Friday that Warner won’t give up all the data the commander-in-chief wants.
President Donald Trump formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity on May 11 by executive order.
On Wednesday, various secretaries of state received a letter from the Kansas Secretary of State and vice chair of the commission, Kris Kobach, requesting “the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party [if recorded in your state], last four digits of social security number if available, voter history [elections voted in] from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, canceled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
While a growing number of states has opted to withhold all or some of the requested information, Warner has yet to receive any such request.
“Number one, we’ve never received a letter,” said Mike Queen, Warner’s communications director. “Number two, we can’t see whether every state has received a letter, I don’t know what states were selected or anything like that, but we haven’t received it. Number three, we would never release Social Security numbers.”
When called, the White House press office referred inquiries to its general press email account and did not respond when asked whether Warner had been sent any such letter.
According to a readout of Vice President Mike Pence’s call with the commission on the White House’s website, the letter is being sent to all 50 states and the District of Columbia requesting the data.
Speaking hypothetically, Queen said Warner, who is out of the office until Monday, would release any information to the president that is regularly released to political groups such as voters’ names, mailing addresses, party affiliations, precinct registrations and dates of birth. However, he said the office would not send over the rest of the requested data, and department staffers are researching the merits and legal standing of declining to provide any data.
“Once we get the request, if we get the request, Secretary Warner will look at it next [Monday],” he said. “I know he won’t release the Social Security numbers, but he’ll probably be compelled to release the data that would normally be released to these other groups.”
He said the secretary of state’s office keeps data on voters’ phone numbers, email addresses and drivers license numbers for internal purposes, but does not release them.
Joseph Cohen, executive director of the ACLU of West Virginia, said Warner shouldn’t fork over any data. He said the commission was formed on an unfounded premise of voter fraud and will only end up suppressing voter turnout, not protecting elections.
“Our position is that this entire so-called commission on electoral integrity was formed to satisfy a fantasy and conspiracy theory started by the president to assuage his ego and back his claim that he won the popular vote,” Cohen said.
“We don’t think that the state should be cooperating with this commission, which is designed to suppress the right to vote. America has a voter access and turnout problem. The real threat to electoral integrity is that too many people don’t vote.”
Despite holding out, Queen said Warner and the department have been doing their own due diligence to maintain electoral integrity. He said staffers have removed roughly 6,300 deceased voters from the rolls since January and a total of 63,346 outdated, deceased or duplicate registrations as well.
These efforts, he said, have led to a boom in new voter registration with 16,951 new voters enlisting since Warner took office. Given this surge, he doesn’t want to do anything that might startle voters.
“We’ve worked too hard to clean up the voter rolls to lose confidence of the voters, so Secretary Warner will be very careful releasing anything other than what we would normally, routinely release to political candidates or political parties,” he said.
Despite thin evidence of its prevalence, voter fraud rhetoric has been in vogue since the 2016 presidential campaign at both the state and national level.
During the regular session of the legislature, Delegate Saira Blair, R-Berkeley, introduced a bill that would have required voters to present state-issued photo identification in order to vote. However, the committee process whittled the final version down into a delay of 2016’s more lax voter identification law, which allows citizens to vote by showing almost any form of identification, including a hunting license, bank card, or even another adult to vouch for their identity to a poll worker.
Just days after coming into the office, Trump made the still-unproven claim that 3 to 5 million illegal ballots cast in the election lost him the popular vote.
Since January, Warner has generally adhered to Trump’s claims of the threat of voter fraud. Warner recommended Wood County Clerk Mark Rhodes for a spot on the commission, which Trump acquiesced to.
Along with his work since he took office to clean up the voter rolls, Warner issued a news release in April asking “the public and the candidates associated with the upcoming 2017 municipal elections to assist in ensuring fair and clean municipal elections by keeping a watchful eye and reporting suspicious election activity to his office.”