When Bob Reinhart, a 64-year-old retiree in Lakewood, heard Colorado’s GOP secretary of state Wayne Williams was planning to send personal information about him to a presidential election commission set up by Donald Trump, he was concerned.
“I know that this list is being requested by someone who has a history of promoting violence against any of his opponents,” he told The Colorado Independent, adding, “I assume that they’ll be cross-referencing this list with many other lists and deciding who’s friend and who’s foe.”
So when Reinhart found out there was a way to keep that information confidential for safety reasons, he took action. On July 5, he and his wife travelled to the local DMV in Lakewood and signed up to become confidential voters, he said.
The Lakewood couple might not be alone.
A brief glance at social media in recent days since Williams’ announcement shows some Colorado voters looking for ways to keep their name, birth year, address, party affiliation and voting history out of the hands of an administration they don’t exactly trust.
At issue is a commission Trump set up ostensibly to investigate voter fraud after he made an unfounded claim that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election that he won.
That commission last week asked election officials in each state to turn over publicly available personal information about each of their voters. Williams plans to send the information at 8 a.m. on July 14, according to his office spokesperson. That information, Williams explained, is already public under state law and anyone can ask for it. It includes a voter’s full name, address, party affiliation, year of birth, and when and where they voted. It does not include who someone voted for because the Secretary of State doesn’t know that information and it certainly is not public.
Reinhart hopes becoming a confidential voter will keep his own information from winding up in a Trump database. The DMV worker with whom he dealt told him there could be a seven- to 14-day lag time, he said.
“I said, ‘Well, we’ll roll the dice on that,’” Reinhart said. But he’s also considering another option.
The Colorado secretary of state’s office on Wednesday confirmed that if a voter un-registers before Williams pulls the state’s public voting files, and then re-registers afterwards, his or her information won’t go to Trump’s commission.
“We are only sending the current voter file, as of July 14, 2017,” says Lynn Bartels, spokeswoman for the Colorado secretary of state.
While becoming a confidential voter must be done in person, can cost $5, and requires that you sign an affidavit under the threat of perjury that you fear for your safety, in Colorado voters can un-register and re-register online— and fairly quickly.
But here’s something to think about: Some worry Trump’s task force on voter fraud— in-person voter fraud is very rare in the United States— is really about intimidating voters or suppressing the vote. And if you believe that, wouldn’t you think voters cancelling their franchise is exactly what an entity aimed at voter-suppression would want?
That’s one of the reasons Reinhart says un-registering to vote gives him pause. “What happens if someone changes the rules?” he says about trying to re-register.
Elena Nunez, the director of Colorado Common Cause who works on election issues, calls it a striking indictment on Trump’s commission that it already might be leading people to unregister to vote.
“I think it’s a tragic reaction to a commission that’s trying to make it more difficult to vote to have people choose to disenfranchise themselves potentially,” she says. Colorado voters, she hopes, will pay attention to policies the commission might adopt in the long term, because they will affect voters who end up in the Trump commission database just as much as those who don’t.
Asked about how her organization might advise voters who want their data kept out of the Trump commission’s hands, Nancy Crow, president of the League of Women Voters of Colorado, declined to say.
“We just look at this as another way of suppressing votes, period,” she said about the Trump election panel. “We don’t believe the commission should have existed in the first place.”
There is no widespread voter fraud but there is voter suppression, Crow says, citing a rash of state voter-ID laws and the gutting of early voting and same-day registration in some states.
National election law expert Rick Hasen says he believes the endgame of the Trump commission that “includes a rogue’s gallery of the country’s worst voter suppressors” could be to pass federal legislation to “make it harder for people to register and vote.”
It should be noted that if you become a confidential voter— or un-register— doing so does not mean your voting information will retroactively disappear from public or private databases that already have obtained it. Political parties, governments, consultants, private companies— anyone, really— can potentially already have a file with your voting information in it.
So far, 14 states and Washington, D.C. have refused the Trump commission’s request for publicly available information on their voters, according to Kobach. Republican secretaries of state from Louisiana to Arizona have declined to comply. Mississippi’s GOP secretary of state Delbert Hosemann told the commission to “go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”
Responding to an uproar that engulfed his office since the news broke last week, Colorado Secretary Williams held a Wednesday news conference in which he reiterated how he is handling the request for information. He is not giving anything to the commission that isn’t already public under the law, he said.
Speaking from a lectern in a conference room surrounded by reporters and TV cameras, Williams did not cast doubt on the goals and aims of Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and co-chaired by Kansas GOP Secretary of State Kris Kobach. He said he was glad a federal panel wanted input from the states.
Asked about concerns that the commission might have nefarious intentions, Williams said such worries are not related to Colorado’s obligation to respond under the law. He says he knows “a number of people” on the commission, both Republicans and Democrats.
“I believe that there is going to be an effort to look at the breadth of the challenges we face in the election area,” Williams said. “Having said that, are there some on the commission who have a particular thing that they are more concerned about than others? I suspect that’s probably true.”