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Update: Colorado Holds Off On Sending Voter Data, Pending Complaint

Erin O'Toole

[Monday, July 10, 2017] The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity received notice Monday of a complaint filed by the Electronic Privacy Information Center, seeking a Temporary Restraining Order in connection with the commission's request for publicly available voter registration data. In response, Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams said he will not be releasing any information until further notice.

[Our original post continues below]

Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams says he has no choice but to comply with a request for data from a federal commission looking into issues with voting and voter registration.

In a news conference on July 5, Williams reiterated what his office said in a June 29 news release: State law requires that he provide the data that is public to anyone who requests it – and he can’t pick and choose who gets it.

“In the case of the presidential advisory commission, they have made a request for publicly available voter roll information,” Williams told KUNC in an interview. “Just like any other person who asks, we will provide them the publicly available information; we will not provide the confidential information.”

More than 40 states and the District of Columbia are refusing to fully comply with the letter, sent June 28, by Kris Kobach of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. It asks for potentially sensitive data, including voters’ full names, birth dates, party affiliation and partial social security numbers.

Read a copy [.pdf] of the letter here.

Colorado’s Secretary of State quickly began receiving pushback from concerned voters.

“We were getting lots of calls and emails,” Lynn Bartels, the Secretary of State’s communications director, said in an email. “Most were respectful and polite. Some had no idea their information had been shared with candidates, campaigns, the public and journalists and such for years. Others feared what the White House would do with the information.”

A number of states last week said they would not comply because of concerns over how the information would be used, or because of privacy concerns. [A statement on the White House website from Kobach disputes the number of states who are refusing.]

But state public records law means outright refusal isn’t an option for Colorado. According to Williams, confidential voter data that won’t be shared includes social security numbers, full birth dates, or other personally identifiable information.

“Things that are public on a voting roll are your name, address, party affiliation, whether you voted or not,” Williams said, “but not how you voted -- because we don’t even know that information.”

The data will be sent to the commission via a secure federal website on July 14.

Colorado state law does allow concerned voters to conceal their personal information. A voter who believes they will be exposed to “criminal harassment” or “bodily harm” may opt to only have their name revealed on the voter rolls as per the statute. The voter must sign an affirmation and pay $5 in their county’s Recorder and Clerk’s office.

Although the law is designed for domestic violence victims, police officers and the like, “[w]e have had people tell county election officials they are asking to be a confidential voter because they are afraid of the federal government,” Lynn Bartels said.

Angela Myers, Larimer County’s Clerk and Recorder, said her office has received about 28 requests in the past few days. While the number is an increase, it is still marginal compared to the 231,480 active registered voters in Larimer County.

Both Bartels and Myers suggest requesting voter confidentiality at least a day prior to the July 14th deadline since the state takes time to process the request.

R. Teal Witter contributed to this story

As the host of KUNC’s new program and podcast In the NoCo, I work closely with our producers and reporters to bring context and diverse perspectives to the important issues of the day. Northern Colorado is such a diverse and growing region, brimming with history, culture, music, education, civic engagement, and amazing outdoor recreation. I love finding the stories and voices that reflect what makes NoCo such an extraordinary place to live.
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