Condos calls in attorney general to help find way to block Trump data grab

Jim Condos

Secretary of State Jim Condos on inauguration day in January. File photo by Andrew Kutches/VTDigger

[S]ecretary of State Jim Condos has stepped up his rebuff of the Trump administration, saying he won’t comply — for now — with the demand that secretaries of state nationwide provide voter information to a federal commission investigating claims of election fraud.

The Election Integrity Commission on Wednesday asked for voters’ dates of birth, voter histories, party affiliations, felony convictions, addresses, Social Security numbers and other personal information, according to Condos’ office.

Condos said last week that he is “bound by law” to provide limited information that is publicly available.

But Monday, citing new information and a public outcry over the weekend, Condos issued a statement saying he wouldn’t send any information until receiving certain assurances from the Trump administration.

The statement said Condos’ office had learned that the two methods the commission provided for submitting voter data – unencrypted email and an FTP site – are insecure. Condos described that as “baffling” and said he has asked the commission for more details on how the data will be used and securely transferred and stored.

“I refuse to respond or comply with any part of this data request until I receive answers to these important questions,” he said. “I am working with the Vermont attorney general’s office to understand all of our options, and we will take the full amount of time allotted to respond with what information that is already publicly available, if any, will be provided.”

He also reiterated that he will not provide “voters’ private and sensitive information,” adding that he had heard from many Vermonters about their concerns. “I will not compromise the security of Vermont voters’ personal data,” Condos said in the statement, “and my office continues to explore all options available to avoid assisting this sham commission.”

President Donald Trump created the advisory commission after claiming that 3 million to 5 million unauthorized immigrants voted illegally in last fall’s election, an assertion that’s patently false, according findings by the Brennan Center for Justice. The commission’s chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is a frequent target of allegations of voter suppression.

Vermont election officials suspect that’s exactly the commission’s goal — suppressing the vote — and worry that the sensitive voter data could be hacked for unethical ends. Many other states are refusing to cooperate with the commission, but in the end they might have little legal standing to say no.

Aside from basic biographical information, Vermont asks people registering to vote for their driver’s license number, the last four digits of their Social Security number and whether they are U.S. citizens. Vermont does not collect party affiliations.

Some of the information the commission is requesting — like voter names and addresses — is available through Vermont’s Public Records Act, which is why Condos’ office said last week it would share public information, Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters said Monday.

TJ Donovan

Attorney General TJ Donovan. File photo by Morgan True/VTDigger

But now the office is searching for any legal grounds to deny the request entirely before the commission’s July 14 deadline, Winters said. He said his office is working with the attorney general’s office to find an exception to the commission’s request in the state’s Public Records Act.

One possible angle: The commission says it plans to publish the voter data it compiles, allowing it to be used commercially. That, Winters said, would violate the legislative intent of the Public Records Act.

Winters would not say whether his office would deny the request entirely if it were unable to muster a sound legal argument. Condos could not be reached Monday to comment on that.

Many other states also make voter registration data public upon request and are rifling through statutes to see whether they, too, must comply with the commission’s demand, said Kay Stimson, spokesperson for the National Association of Secretaries of State. (For more on other states’ responses, see the document below.)

Neither Vermont’s secretary of state’s office nor the attorney general’s office has received a single complaint of voter fraud in at least 10 years, Winters said.

“We’re not saying it doesn’t exist,” he said. “It’s just not widespread.”

Condos’ characterization of the commission as a sham drew agreement from the American Civil Liberties Union and from Rights and Democracy, a Vermont and New Hampshire advocacy group.

“Bottom line for ACLU is we stand with Secretary Condos in standing up to Trump’s so-called commission,” ACLU staff attorney Jay Diaz said Monday. “It is nothing more than an effort to advance Trump propaganda and suppress the right to vote.”

Rights and Democracy spokesman Shay Totten said voting fraud is largely a fraud itself. “This is fake news. There is not rampant voter fraud,” he said.

Secretaries of state will be gathering July 7-10 in Indiana for the annual National Association of Secretaries of State conference. When Condos returns, Winters said, they will know more about how to respond.

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Dan Schwartz

About Dan

Dan Schwartz is a master's student at the Missouri School of Journalism. Before going back to school he worked for newspapers in Alaska, New Mexico and Vermont, winning awards along the way for investigative reporting on politics and the environment. In his free time, he enjoys skiing and ice climbing. He can be reached at [email protected]

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