New lawsuit aims to stop Trump’s ‘sham commission’ dead in its tracks

Suit filed a day after White House releases commenters' personal information in comments that show hatred for voter commission

As the White House releases 112 pages of colorful comments—and personal information—after it asked for the public to weigh in on its so-called Election Integrity Commission and received an overwhelmingly negative response, a new lawsuit aims to protect voters’ privacy rights by stopping the controversial commission’s sweeping data demand.

The Trump-established commission, headed by Vice President Mike Pence with “king of voter suppression” Kris Kobach serving as vice chair, sparked outrage and push-back from blue and red states alike (48 states have thus far refused in whole or in part) when it asked all 50 states and the District of Columbia for voting and other personal information on every voter.

Filed Friday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by Common Cause, the suit argues (pdf) that “the unlawful collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of the sensitive and personal voting data of millions of Americans,” by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Social Security Administration violates the Privacy Act and Administrative Procedure Act.

“Every eligible American has a right to an equal voice and vote in the future of their family, community, and country,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause.

“The Privacy Act was passed in the wake of Watergate when the Nixon White House compiled information on individuals with opposing political views,” she stated, adding: “It was wrong then and it is wrong now.”

The data request prompted over 3,300 people in Colorado (a state that has partly complied with the request) to withdraw their voter registration. But Hobert Flynn cautioned against such a response.

“Common Cause wants every American to know we understand your concern and urge everyone to stay registered and engaged and fight this with your voice. Help us hold the Pence-Kobach Commission accountable. They are wrong and you should not give up your vote to protect your privacy,” she said.

The Trump administration on Thursday published the trove of email comments it received about the commission but did so in unredacted form. In some cases, that meant the White House posted “not only names, but email addresses, home addresses, phone numbers, and places of employment of people worried about such information being made available to the public,” the Washington Post reported.

The White House said in a disclaimer: “Please note that the Commission may post such written comments publicly on our website, including names and contact information that are submitted,” CNBC reports. The Post, however, writes: “The White House does not appear to have issued any such public guidelines or warnings before many of the emails were sent.”

According to Chris Lu, who noted on Twitter the release of the personal information, told Engadget, “Whether or not it’s legal to disclose this personal information, it’s clearly improper, and no responsible White House would do this.”

Talking Points Memo also points out that the White House request for feedback “backfired bigly,” as negative comments about the commission poured in.

“The only thing undermining American citizens’ confidence in the integrity of federal election processes is you and this sham commission,” wrote one commenter.

Another wrote: “This commission is a sham and Kris Kobach has been put on it expressly to disenfranchise minority voters. I am ashamed that my taxpayer dollars are being used for such purposes.”

Bloomberg also noted that public comments to regulatory notices are typically dry and not newsworthy.

But Trump’s voting commission appears to have become a magnet for vitriol against the president and Kobach personally. The panel released 112 pages of emails it’s received late Thursday. The writers are angry, funny, profane and in almost all cases adamantly opposed to the commission, Kobach and the president himself.

NBC News points to the outpouring of negative responses as well, writing that the comments “ranged from thoughtful critiques to profanity-laden tirades, some of which included ‘f bombs.’”

There’s also some irony, with the release of the public information, Steve Benen writes at Maddow Blow, as “Trump World has said, the ‘voter integrity’ commissioners—acting without oversight, layers of accountability, or legal authority—can be trusted to safeguard American voters’ personal data.”

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Andrea Germanos is senior editor and a staff writer for Common Dreams, where this was originally published. Email: andrea@commondreams.org.

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