Judge Blocks Texas From Sending Voter Data to Trump, for Now

by | October 5, 2017

By Chuck Lindell

A Travis County judge has blocked state officials from turning over Texas voting records to President Donald Trump's commission on voter fraud.

State District Judge Tim Sulak issued a temporary restraining order Tuesday that prohibits the release of voter information for about two weeks, ruling that providing the data "without taking appropriate precautions to safeguard the privacy and security of that information" could violate state election and privacy laws.

"If the private information contained in the Texas Computerized Voter Registration List is transmitted without appropriate safeguards, it is likely to become public," Sulak wrote in his four-page order.

Such an outcome could discourage voter participation, violate privacy rights and chill First Amendment rights, the judge said.

Sulak set a hearing for Oct. 16 in Austin on whether to issue a longer-term injunction barring release of the information.

Trump formed the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in May to investigate whether ballots have been cast by immigrants in the country illegally, people voting in more than one state and voters using names of dead people.

The president has claimed that millions of votes were illegally cast for his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton, in last November's election -- an assertion that  many election officials from both parties have disputed.

To aid its investigation, the commission has asked election officials in each state to provide the full names of all registered voters as well as their addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, the history of election participation since 2006, military status, felony convictions and mail-in votes cast from outside the country.

Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos informed the commission that his office would provide only the voter roll information that is generally available to the public, which does not include partial Social Security numbers or military status.

Texas also does not ask registered voters to select a political party, though the state does keep track of voter participation in Democratic and Republican primaries.

Pablos has not yet provided voter information to the commission because he was awaiting a ruling on the lawsuit before Sulak, which was filed by the League of Women Voters of Texas and the NAACP.

"If the wrong people get a hold of private information such as your Social Security number, date of birth, address or voting history, various aspects of our lives and even our freedoms are at risk," said Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference.

"This is very serious business in a time when even foreign governments are seeking our private voter information," he said.

The Trump commission's quest for voter data also has been challenged by more than a half-dozen federal lawsuits arguing that the effort violates U.S. privacy laws or other statutes.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who requested the state voter information as vice chairman of the commission, has promised that information on individual voters will not be made public and that records will be kept confidential and secure.

The Texas secretary of state's office declined to comment on the ruling because it involves a "matter of pending litigation," spokesman Sam Taylor said Wednesday.

(c)2017 Austin American-Statesman, Texas