As many people know, last week Kris Kobach sent a letter to all 50 states asking for a lot of “publicly available” information about registered voters: “full names, addresses, dates of birth, political parties, the last four digits of their social security numbers, a list of the elections they voted in since 2006, information on any felony convictions, information on whether they were registered to vote in other states, their military status, and whether they lived overseas.”
Pence and Kobach both feel that this information all falls under publicly available, but multiple states disagree, saying that they wouldn’t, for example, ever give out any part of someone’s social security number or birth date. (Sensible, really, from a basic identity theft protections standpoint.) For this and a litany of other reasons, 44 of the 50 states have so far said no, nope, not happening, nice try, go away now. (I’m paraphrasing. Then again, Mississippi’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from,” so I’m only very slightly paraphrasing.) However, a few states have said yes. And those residents have concerns. Concerns that are leading registered voters to opt for removing themselves as registered voters, essentially de-registering and successfully meeting the administration agenda of voter suppression.
The response to this has been the predictable “don’t play into their hands” approach, encouraging people to not de-register to vote if they live in states handing over any of the requested data to Kobach, and my knee-jerk reaction was to agree and retweet when I saw relevant posts (as well as again being grateful I live in Massachusetts).
But here’s the thing. The commission Kobach is vice-chair of, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, is a federal entity. This means that it’s subject to federal public records requirements, and the data will become public record the minute it’s sent in.1 And that, that changes things. A lot. It’s not just about identity theft; Do you really want your boss to be able to access your political party? How easily do you want someone to know where you live? Do you want someone to look up your voter record before deciding whether to accept you in to graduate school? 2
These might not seem like a huge deal if you’re someone who lives who you are on your sleeve; if you live in a liberal state where diversity of opinion is appreciated (even if people really wish you’d vote differently); if you’ve never been stalked. But for a lot of people, the threat – and that’s what this is, a threat (cuz that’s how voter suppression works) – of people finding out this information that we typically think of as personal and private is the sort of threat that demands action. And I don’t think it’s right, responsible, or compassionate to ignore that kind of panic-fueled motivation.
Instead, I think the right reaction is to listen to the people who feel that this means they have to de-register and remove themselves from registered voter lists. Instead of telling them not to because that’s what Trump & Co want, I think the thing to do is say: yes, absolutely you should protect yourself first and remove yourself from voter rolls. And at the very same time, you need to find out when the last day to legally register to vote is, in your state/county, and then you need to place reminders to yourself to re-register to vote by that day on your phone, computer, physical calendar, and any and everywhere else you’ll see it. Because your obligation, if you pull yourself off these rolls, to yourself, your county, and your country, is to put yourself right back on those voter rolls when it counts: when you can vote. Protecting yourself from the effects of their voter suppression attempts is fine and logical – so long as you don’t literally allow them to suppress your vote.