Election Commission data request on hold pending lawsuit

MONTPELIER — Secretary of State Jim Condos said a request for voter information from President Donald Trump’s Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is on hold while the commission deals with a federal lawsuit.

Condos and other election officials around the country received an email Monday from Andrew Kossack, the designated federal officer for the commission, asking them to hold off on sending the information requested by the commission. The hold, according to the email, is due to suit filed in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia by the Electronic Privacy Information Center that seeks a temporary restraining order.

Secretary of State Jim Condos

“Until the Judge rules on the TRO, we request that you hold on submitting any data. We will follow up with you with further instructions once the Judge issues her ruling,” Kossack wrote in the email, which Condos provided to the Vermont Press Bureau.

The commission requested information from all 50 states on June 28 that drew immediate pushback from most states. The information sought by the commission includes birth dates, drivers license numbers, parts of Social Security numbers and information about criminal records and military service.

Before the email from the commission putting the data request on hold at least 45 states had fully or partially rejected the request.

Condos initially said he would provide the commission with publicly available information. Under Vermont law, public records include voters’ names, address, town and which elections voters cast ballots in.

“It’s pretty basic information. All three parties get it, candidates get it, researchers get it,” Condos said.

Condos said he had concerns with the request, however, and replied the same day to the commission’s request and asked for a copy of the executive order that created the commission to review its authority. He also asked for a complete list of the commission’s members and staff. The following day he sent a follow up email with about 10 questions “basically around cybersecurity.”

“It was just about how this stuff was going to be protected,” Condos said. “I haven’t received any acknowledgement that they received my emails and I certainly haven’t received any reply to those emails.”

After hearing from Vermonters concerned about privacy, Condos said he would not send any information to the commission and asked Attorney General T.J. Donovan to review the request to determine if the state was compelled to respond.

Condos said the initial data request, made by Kris Kobach, the secretary of state in Kansas and the vice chairman of the commission, did ask for some publicly available information. But Kobach “should have known better than to ask for Social Security numbers and other personally identifiable information that he knows is exempt.”

Condos met with Attorney General T.J. Donovan last week. He said Donovan is reviewing whether Act 5, a law aimed at protecting immigrants in Vermont signed by Gov. Phil Scott earlier this year, may prevent the state from sharing any information. The law prohibits state officials from sharing data with the federal government that could be used to construct any type of registry.

“He thought it would,” Condos said.

For now, Condos said his office is not planning to submit any information to the commission and will consider its options after the lawsuit is resolved.

“We may have to send something. If we do, they’ll have to follow our laws and sign an affidavit and say they won’t use it for commercial use,” Condos said. “Until the lawsuit in federal court is dealt with we’re on hold. That is actually good because it gives us more time. My gut says we probably will not have to send anything because the law is on our side.”

neal.goswami@timesargus.com

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