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Common Cause, Democrats urge Maryland not to comply with Trump election data request

A government watchdog group and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland urged state election officials on Friday to refuse to comply with a data request made by the Trump administration as part of an investigation into the integrity of elections.

The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, created by Republican President Donald J. Trump in May, has asked Maryland and every other state to supply voter data including names, addresses, party affiliation, voting history and partial social security numbers.

Damon Effingham, Common Cause Maryland's legal and policy director, said the request raises "significant concerns among voting rights and privacy advocates."

"The request is breathtakingly broad," Effingham said in a statement.

David Rocah, a senior attorney with the ACLU of Maryland, said Friday "the request is improper under Maryland law on multiple levels."

Much of the requested information is public under Maryland law but must be requested by a registered voter of the state and cannot be used for commercial purposes. Many political campaigns, for instance, obtains such information for purposes of advertising and door-knocking.

The request came in a letter from commission vice-chair and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. The letter does not ask for private information, but rather public voter-roll information.

"In order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly-available voter roll data for Maryland," Kobach wrote in the letter.

Nevertheless, Common Cause argues that state law "forbids granting a request made under these circumstances."

"Secretary of State Kobach is a registered voter in Kansas," Effingham said.

State law also says a Maryland voter must submit to the State Board of Elections a statement signed under oath that the requested voter information will not be used for purposes unrelated to the electoral process.

Linda H. Lamone, Maryland's elections administrator, said she has asked Attorney General Brian E. Frosh for guidance in how to respond.

A spokeswoman for Frosh, a Democrat, said the office would evaluate the request and provide Lamone with guidance.

A spokeswoman for Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, emphasized that the State Board of Elections "functions as an independent agency."

State laws vary, but the request was met with pushback in some states. Officials from Kentucky, Virginia and New York, for instance, said they would not comply.

In Maryland, leading Democrats condemned the commission's work.

"President Trump's 'voter fraud investigation' is an attempt to suppress and disenfranchise voters, plain and simple," Democratic Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz tweeted. He went on to say that Maryland must join with Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, "and refuse to honor this alarming, politically motivated request."

State Sen. Bill Ferguson, a Baltimore Democrat, called the panel a "voter suppression commission."

White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Friday called the outrage over the request "mostly a political stunt."

"This is a commission that's asking for publicly available data," she said.

The commission was created after Trump claimed on Twitter in November that he "won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally." Trump won the Electoral College vote, but Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by nearly 2.9 million votes.

The president has never offered evidence to back up his claim. He has been rebuked by both Democratic and Republican officials for undermining confidence in the nation's electoral system.

Frosh said in a letter to Congress this year that voter fraud is not a significant problem in Maryland.

"To date, there are no cases in which it has been determined that an individual who cast a vote in the federal elections held in November 2016 was legally prohibited from doing so...," Frosh wrote. "With only two instances of confirmed voter fraud from the total voter turnout of 2,734,176 in the 2012 Presidential General Election, we can safely say that there is no evidence of coordinated or systematic voter fraud in Maryland."

Baltimore Sun reporter John Fritze contributed to this article.

lbroadwater@baltsun.com

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