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Donald Trump's voting fraud panel: What you need to know

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, holds a stack of papers as he meets with then President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. in November. Civil rights advocates say Kobach is trying to hide materials that undercut his public claim that substantial numbers of noncitizens have registered to vote. [AP Photo | Carolyn Kaster]

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, right, holds a stack of papers as he meets with then President-elect Donald Trump at the Trump National Golf Club Bedminster clubhouse in Bedminster, N.J. in November. Civil rights advocates say Kobach is trying to hide materials that undercut his public claim that substantial numbers of noncitizens have registered to vote. [AP Photo | Carolyn Kaster]

TALLAHASSEE — Over a weekend in which he continued to feud with MSNBC and CNN, it might have been easy to overlook a tweet by President Donald Trump that didn't bash the media.

Sandwiched between a conspiracy theory about Greta Van Susteren being let go and his assertion that CNN represents "garbage journalism" was a tweet Saturday where he implied states had an ulterior motive for refusing to cooperate with the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

If you haven't been following this VOTER FRAUD PANEL, now might be the time to start paying attention.

It's become a VERY BIG DEAL.

Here's what you need to know about it.

What is the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity?

Trump signed an executive order on May 11 that created a commission to review alleged voter fraud and voter suppression. Unsubstantiated claims that people voted illegally in the 2016 election inspired the commission, which is chaired by Vice President Mike Pence and vice chaired by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The commission will examine allegations of improper voting and fraudulent voter registration in states and across the nation. It will report back to Trump by 2018.

What's wrong with investigating voter fraud?

Democrats and voting-rights groups call the panel a sham. They say there are so few incidents of actual voter fraud that the real purpose of the panel is to impose stricter voting requirements that would make it more difficult for poor and minority voters to cast ballots.

Voting fraud in Florida is exceedingly rare, as it across the rest of nation. Meanwhile, groups like the American Civil Liberties Union says voter suppression is a far greater concern, especially in states where Republican-controlled Legislatures have passed laws that restrict access to the polls.

What is Trump referring to in his tweet?

Kobach, the panel's vice chair, is requesting data from all 50 state's voting rolls, which would include full names of registered voters, dates of birth, party registration, last four digits of Social Security numbers and voting history.

Eleven states won't comply at all with the request. They are California, New Mexico, Minnesota, New York, Virginia, Massachusetts, South Dakota, Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi and Washington D.C.

Another 24 states are giving only limited public data to Kobach.

The request has done something that many thought was impossible. It's triggered a bipartisan response.

Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, told CNN that Virginia conducts fair and honest elections and that the commission was based on the "specious and false notion that there was widespread voter fraud last November. At best this commission was set up as a pretext to validate Donald Trump's alternative election facts, and at worst is a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression."

Meanwhile, some Republican states, have taken the mantle of states' rights to resist.

"My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico," said Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, a Republican told CNN. "Mississippi residents should celebrate Independence Day and our state's right to protect the privacy of our citizens by conducting our own electoral processes."

So where does Florida stand?

On Friday, Gov. Rick Scott told the AP that he hasn't seen Kobach's letter. His Secretary of State, Ken Detzner, said his office was reviewing it.

Why is Florida in a particularly awkward spot?

Scott has been one of Trump's main supporters. With Trump publicly shaming states that won't give the panel the data, it's not clear if Scott can hold off on handing over the data.

But Florida has declined to join the Electronic Registration Information Center, a 7-year-old consortium of 20 states and Washington D.C. who share election data to better track voters' movements between states, cities and counties. Florida's 67 county elections supervisors aggressively lobbied the Legislature this spring to make Florida the next ERIC state, but to no avail. It's unclear if Scott's office got involved in the issue. So if Florida isn't sharing data for ERIC, why then would it share data with Trump's more controversial Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity?

State Democrats have seized on the issue, including Gwen Graham, who is running for governor in 2018.

Maybe Florida should have joined ERIC. That doesn't mean it shouldn't cooperate with Trump's panel, right?

Well, this idea of having all of the nation's voting data in one place is causing many cyber security experts to sound alarms.

According to Florida's elections officials, one of the saving graces to an attempt by Russia last year to hack the state's voting system was that the system itself was decentralized, meaning it was divided up among the 67 counties.

But if Kobach gets all the information he wants and has it stored in one place, that makes it all the more of an easy target for hackers.

"It is beyond stupid," Nicholas Weaver, a computer science professor at the University of California at Berkley told Politico.

"The bigger the purse, the more effort folks would spend to get at it," said Joe Hall, chief technologist at the Center for Democracy and Technology, a digital advocacy group, told Politico. "And in this case, this is such a high-profile and not-so-competent tech operation that we're likely to see the hacktivists and pranksters take shots at it."

It's not just Russian hackers who would prey upon the data, but everyday scammers that Floridians know all too well.

"Simply by digitizing the data, collecting it in one place, making it freely available in one place — it's a Christmas gift for thieves," Neil O'Farrell, the executive director of the Identity Theft Council, told the New York Times in 2015.

Gosh, that's bad. Why in the world would such a risk be taken?

Good question, especially for a commission with the ostensible purpose of better securing the nation's voting system.

Some are speculating that Trump and Kobach have other reasons.

Kobach likes to call himself "the ACLU's worst nightmare."

According to Ari Berman, a writer for The Nation and author of Give Us the Ballot: The Modern Struggle for Voting Rights in America, Kobach is the only secretary of state in the U.S. with the authority to prosecute voter fraud. Although he's claimed voter fraud among non-citizens is pervasive, he's only convicted one for doing so. Meanwhile, his Crosscheck system of voter registration data could lead to 200 people wrongly purged from voting rolls for every potential double vote found.

How long does Florida have to decide?

Kobach's letter gives a deadline of July 14.

That should give Democrats like Sen. José Javier Rodríguez of Miami plenty of time to mount a public campaign against sharing data with the commission.

Donald Trump's voting fraud panel: What you need to know 07/03/17 [Last modified: Monday, July 3, 2017 2:43pm]
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