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MIKE MASTERSON: U.S. voting probe

We’re in* by Mike Masterson | July 11, 2017 at 4:30 a.m.

Having some relevant information is better than none when it comes to detecting the scourge of voter fraud on a national scale, which makes me wonder why every state wouldn't be eager to know if theirs might be infected.

Raw partisan politics and/or fear of exposure and resulting embarrassment could be reasons some states are withholding fundamental information about exactly who reportedly voted (and how) in recent elections.

For whatever reasons, the national media initially reported that more than 40 states, including Arkansas, said they wouldn't participate fully with the ongoing federal investigation commissioned by the president and headed by Vice President Mike Pence, assisted by vice chairman Kris Kobach.

Kobach is the GOP secretary of state in Kansas who's running for governor there.

Perhaps as an indication of the dire need for accuracy in something as sacred as our voting system in contrast with less than accurate news accounts, Kobach said national media was falsely reporting last week that 44 states refused to turn over the requested information.

For those interested in facts, however, Kobach said 20 states had agreed to comply with the request, while 16 were reviewing what data to release. Only 14 states and the District of Columbia had refused the request outright at the time he commented.

Even flat denials likely will only create a delay since the commission says it will use public-records requests to obtain the data.

Reasons given for withholding included invasion-of-privacy fears and concern this public information could somehow be used to suppress citizens' right to vote.

Hard to understand such rationales considering our elections and voter rolls are indeed public information. In order to determine potential fraud in the nation's election process, Kobach also did ask for information that could justifiably be considered out of bounds.

I'm talking about data such as the last four digits of a voter's Social Security number, felony convictions, phone numbers and driver's license numbers.

However, my tiny brain says it can't be harmful in a free and open society to share helpful government-gathered public information with the larger government if the data consists of a voter's name, birth date, party affiliation, voting history since 2008 and registration status.

After all, it's the same information you or I could lawfully obtain by fling a Freedom of Information Act request.

Kobach's announced goal is to ensure honest elections, which seems far more critical than, say, whether Russia "meddled" in some unspecified way with our election.

He specifically asked for the states' recommendations to improve election integrity. Kobach also sought guidance on which laws they believe deter that goal.

That, too, sounds reasonable to ask of any state interested in ensuring its voting process is as trustworthy as possible. (I can imagine some states that might break a sweat to have the feds auditing their election patterns and practices.)

Reporter Brian Fanney quoted Gov. Asa Hutchinson saying he's "very hesitant" to provide the information available in an Arkansas database to a national database because, well, even though it's public, "we generally handle voter-fraud issues state by state."

The governor also believes we handle election matters well in Arkansas and recommended Secretary of State Mark Martin not provide all the information Kobach requested, which Martin already had decided, saying the request is too broad and includes sensitive information that's not in the best interest of Arkansas voters to release.

So, while other states wrestle over whether to submit the information in order to validate various states' pronounced claims of honesty and integrity, for now Arkansas will participate (with an asterisk.)

News reports say so will Texas, Missouri and Oklahoma, while Louisiana, Tennessee and Mississippi initially balked at providing the information.

Since those six states have Republican administrations, I rolled my right eye when I heard their reasonings.

Louisiana Secretary of State Tom Schedler accused the federal commission of "playing politics" and advised them to purchase the limited information available to those running for office.

In Tennessee, Secretary of State Tre Hargett said their state law prevents them from turning over the requested information.

And everyone who read Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann's response likely chuckled along with me: "They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from."

Like most of us enjoying life in a conservative Southern state, I wasn't that surprised to see the Democrat leaders of California and Virginia refuse to participate.

Actually, it strikes me that the same federal government that processes our tax returns from every state, investigates our crimes, provides for human needs and services, oversees transportation and funds our military, knows plenty about each of us and likely could quickly determine a lot about possible corruption by acquiring just basic public information about each state's voting population.

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Mike Masterson is a longtime Arkansas journalist. Email him at mmasterson@arkansasonline.com.

Editorial on 07/11/2017

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