Raising fresh concerns about the intentions behind President Donald Trump’s now-defunct “Commission on Election Integrity,” newly released documents reveal a “deeply disturbing” request that Texas officials flag records for all voters with Hispanic surnames, according to the Washington Post.
The commission—which was launched following Trump’s unsubstantiated claims about rampant fraud and faced challenges from several states and advocacy groups—paid Texas $3,500 in September for nearly 50 million state voter records. The Post reports a commission researcher “checked a box on two Texas public voter data request forms explicitly asking for the ‘Hispanic surname flag notation,’ to be included in information sent to the voting commission.”
Although the commission disbanded following several legal challenges and the state’s records were never sent, Texas was expected to provide “lists of voters who were active, those with canceled registrations, and those with an outdated or incorrect address on file; and a list of those who voted in the past six general elections from 2006 through 2016,” and “flags for the Hispanic surnames would be in the lists.”
“The request from the commission was inappropriate to begin with and it was inappropriate for Texas to have contemplated giving the data given their state privacy laws and the inability of the commission to protect voters’ privacy.”
Justin Levitt, a professor and election law expert who oversaw voting rights for the Obama administration’s Department of Justice, told the Associated Press the “deeply disturbing” request could suggest the commission was searching for non-citizens on Texas’ voter rolls, and noted “that—I cannot say more emphatically—is the sort of discriminatory racial profiling that the constitution forbids in official government action.”
Texas has one of the largest Hispanic populations in the country, second only to California. About a quarter of Texas’ more than 15 million voters have Hispanic surnames, and the state identifies Hispanic voters in order to provide them with bilingual election notices, according to a spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos.
Myrna Pérez, a lawyer for the Brennan Center for Justice, said, “Texas voters would have been subject to unreasonable and unlawful privacy risks” had the commission continued its work. “The request from the commission was inappropriate to begin with,” she added, “and it was inappropriate for Texas to have contemplated giving the data given their state privacy laws and the inability of the commission to protect voters’ privacy.”
The commission was led by Vice President Mike Pence as well as “notorious vote suppressor” Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who told the Post that the researcher who filed the request for Texas records “did not ask any member of the commission whether he should check that box or not” and “at no time did the commission request any state to flag surnames by ethnicity or race.”
An anonymous White House official, meanwhile, claimed the commission “asked to identify Hispanic surnames to resolve data discrepancies or confusion caused by the traditional Spanish naming convention that uses the surnames of both parents.”
The documents (pdf) detailing the Texas purchase were made public in response to a request by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) that the U.S. General Service Administration release records of its communications with Trump’s election commission.
By Jessica Corbett
Jessica Corbett is a staff writer at Commondreams.org.
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