Presidential commission’s request for voter information prompts local debate
EAGLE — Nationwide, the call for release of voter information to President Donald Trump’s recently created Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has resulted in heated debate and prompted response from election officials in all 50 states.
Locally, it has convinced only a handful of voters to file confidential voter paperwork. And, like their counterparts throughout America, the request has divided residents along partisan lines.
Only public information
Colorado’s official stance matches what most states are saying about the request — the state will provide the voter information that is currently available. That information includes the voter’s full name, residential address, party affiliation, date of affiliation, gender, birth year, phone number if provided by the voter at registration and whether the voter has voted in prior elections.
That is a partial list of what the Commission requested. But the official request also seeks birth dates, felony conviction records, voting histories for the past decade and the last four digits of all voters’ Social Security numbers. Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams has issued a statement that he will withhold confidential voter information.
Eagle County Clerk and Recorder Regina O’Brien issued a news release last week to reinforce that message for local voters. She noted the information that will be provided is, by state law, available to anyone who requests it. Colorado is expected to provide the information to the advisory commission on Friday.
“They are providing information that is public and has always been public,” she said.
O’Brien said there hasn’t been overwhelming local reaction to the Commission information request.
“It’s mostly been people asking for more information,” she said.
O’Brien has received approximately 10 confidential voter requests since the Commission announcement. She said residents can become confidential voters if there is belief the voter or a member of the voter’s household will be exposed to criminal harassment or bodily harm if the voter’s information is made publicly available. A confidential voter’s information will not be released to the public.
To become a confidential voter, a resident must visit the Eagle County Clerk’s Office in person, fill out the voter confidentiality form and pay $5 by cash or check for the statutorily required processing fee. This will remove voter information from future lists but will not remove information from past editions already released.
As to questions of why the voter phone number information will be provided to the Commission, that information is provided during voter registration, so it is part of the public documentation. However, voters can remove a phone number from their voter registration by visiting http://www.govotecolorado.com and updating their information.
What people are saying
Local reaction to the Commission request is mirroring party lines. Joy Harrison, of the Eagle County Democrats, stated the action is “based solely on Trump’s paranoid and delusional claims of widespread voter fraud.”
“Wayne Williams should not comply with this request to release Coloradans’ voters’ personal data — including Social Security numbers, birthdates, voting history and party affiliation — to a server stored on White House computers and maintained by Vice President (Mike) Pence,” Harrison said. “This is not an independent, bipartisan commission studying states’ election processes. This is a deeply divisive and partisan effort to amass an enormous amount of data without any clear explanation of how it will be analyzed or safeguarded.”
Kaye Ferry, of the Eagle County GOP, had a very different response.
“When you register to vote, this information becomes public record,” Ferry said. “Privacy in this country any more is pretty much a figment of people’s imagination.”
Ferry said the Commission was formed because of nationwide distrust of the election process. As it has become easier and easier to vote, Ferry said more people have become concerned about whether the election process is accurate and whether the systems in place to ensure fair voter registration are well-maintained.
“These things aren’t as clear as people think they are,” Ferry said. “I am in favor of absolutely everything that will safeguard the election process.”
O’Brien noted that voters’ concern with the election process has become a national issue, but emphatically stated that in Colorado, the system is secure.
O’Brien said the state voter registration system is independent from the election ballot-counting process. The voter registration information is maintained and managed through the Colorado Secretary of State’s office. The county’s actual ballot-counting process is managed through the county clerk’s office, and the ballot dissemination and collection is run through a computer system that is not connected to the internet and cannot be remotely hacked, according to O’Brien.
She added that the system has safeguards to ensure that residents cannot turn in more than one ballot. O’Brien said there are also protections in place to ensure that part-time Eagle County residents cannot vote both here and in another state.
“If people have turned in two ballots, that case of voter fraud gets turned over to the district attorney,” O’Brien said. “We do not have people illegally voting in Eagle County.”
O’Brien acknowledged that an argument against the Commission request is that it will result in voter suppression. But she said based on activity since the June 28 Commission request, that doesn’t seem to be happening locally.
“We have a transient valley and people withdraw (their local voter registration) because they have moved,” she said, “but we have not seen an uptick in withdraws lately.”
Patrick Tvarkunas needed 237 signatures on a petition to let Eagle voters decide whether The Reserve at Hockett Gulch — a 500-unit workforce housing project — should be built. He and others submitted 304.