There is a threat to electoral integrity in Indiana and across the nation. It isn’t hidden within voter data. It is right out in the open—it’s the number of votes cast in our elections. The U.S. voter turnout is extremely low compared with other countries. We ranked 31st among the 35 countries in the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, and Indiana had the worst voter turnout in the nation in 2014.
Because of voter access and turnout problems, too many eligible voters do not vote in Indiana and across the country. However, instead of focusing on making sure America’s elections are safe, fair and transparent, we are seeing a coordinated attack on voting rights in our nation.
Most recently, the demand for voter information from the “Commission on Election Integrity,” chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, raises substantial privacy concerns. Many states have refused to share data and risk the security of voters’ personal information.
Here in Indiana, the Secretary of State’s Office complied with a limited amount of the voter data demanded by Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the commission. Under Indiana law, a voter’s name, address and congressional district are available to the public. Otherwise, voter information is kept private.
The voter-suppression commission, as we should more aptly call it, requested full names of all registrants, addresses and dates of birth, last four digits of Social Security numbers, political party and voter history. Kobach, Kansas’ secretary of state, has promised that “any documents that are submitted to the full commission will also be made available to the public.” There is no guarantee the information will be kept anonymous and secure. For the ACLU of Indiana, the lack of clarity and potential misuse of this data raises substantial constitutional concerns.
This commission’s creation and its overreach for information are indicative of something larger. At the same time the panel sent out its request, the U.S. Department of Justice informed all 50 states that it is “reviewing voter registration list maintenance procedures in each state covered by the [National Voter Registration Act]” and asking how states plan to remove voters from the rolls.
The ACLU sees this as a sign that the Department of Justice might sue states in the hopes of forcing them to remove voters from the rolls, endangering the rights of many.
Given these concerns, the lack of transparency of the commission is alarming. Which is why the ACLU has filed suit. Federal law requires that meetings be open to the public. The commission must provide timely notice of meetings, allowing for in-person attendance, and make written records available to the public. Federal law also states that the commission must ensure it’s not inappropriately influenced by special interests or the president himself.
The Commission on Election Integrity has violated federal requirements and impeded constitutional rights. We will hold it accountable. It’s our elected officials’ responsibility to preserve and advance the right to vote, not to hinder and impair.
The right to vote is essential to a vibrant democracy. The ACLU of Indiana will continue to protect our democracy and support our constitutional right to have our voices heard.•
Henegar is executive director of the ACLU of Indiana.