Columns » Autumn Tolbert

Sham hotline

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Secretary of State Mark Martin has set up a hotline for Arkansans to call with feedback about the individual voter data he so eagerly turned over on two separate occasions to the newly created Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. Lawyers for President Trump argued successfully in a recent lawsuit that this commission, led by notorious vote suppressors Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is not an agency, but merely a presidential advisory panel. This distinction should lead to questions about the true purpose of the commission and how closely it will be tied with the Trump reelection campaign he launched on Inauguration Day by filing paperwork with Federal Election Commission.

I've heard some of the people who like to refer to themselves as "patriots" and who tend to elevate the Second Amendment over the rest of the Bill of Rights, fall in lock step behind President Trump and criticize the bipartisan resistance to the data request from secretaries of state across the country and ask the same question they ask when the government is trying to overreach or the Fourth Amendment is being eroded to those who stand up for privacy: "What are you trying to hide?"

Sigh. This is the kind of thinking that gets us closer and closer to an authoritarian state, as if only those who are doing something wrong would dare stand up for privacy and against searches of our data, cars and homes. It is the same mentality that gave us the Patriot Act and secret warrants and the idea that a dog can breathe funny outside a car and a police officer gets to search it. If this sounds like complaining and overreacting then we probably all need a primer on freedom and privacy.

It may come to the point where the people are so tired and worn out from all the carrying on by the Trump administration and his supporters that they just throw their hands up and quit fighting. People are exhausted and horrified. Many Arkansas college and university employees anxiously await the arrival of guns on campus. In between struggling to save Medicaid and protect immigrants and transgender service members, people are subject to the daily White House circus. Thankfully, White House Communications Director Anthony Scaramucci only lasted 10 bizarre days, but with reality star Omarosa Manigault and half the Trump family in the West Wing, we wearily wait to see what is next.

But back to the hotline. What is its purpose? How will it help? Has Martin really set up a specific phone line because he is so concerned about what the people of Arkansas have to say about his actions? It is too late to get the voter information back even if every single citizen of Arkansas called the hotline with an objection to its release. The cat is out of the bag. The data is in the hands of the president. Phone numbers, addresses, date of registration, political party, whether the voter casts a ballot early or on election day, and other data that we would hope the mere proximity to the secret ballot tradition would provide some protection. It is true that this information was available to Arkansas residents if sought under a Freedom of Information Act request, but Martin did not require the commission to follow the law. He made it easy for hackers and others with nefarious purposes to get their hands on our data. In fact, the information is now on the deep web.

I'll tell you the purpose of the hotline. It's a placebo. A sugar pill. It's the "close door" button in an elevator. It makes us feel good and powerful, but accomplishes nothing. It also takes time and energy away from actual endeavors or phone calls that could make a difference. Martin, in order to avoid his main phone lines being overrun with calls by upset Arkansans, has shooed those concerns away to a secondary phone number. He is giving the people the brush off. Last year, he set up a hotline for the Ten Commandment monument complaints and he will continue to do it for other hot button issues.

The calls to the hotline are probably somehow logged or recorded or noted. However, if you want Martin to know you are out there and you are upset, forget the hotline. Call the main number. Don't let him and other elected officials dismiss your concerns so easily. Be thankful, maybe just this once, for term limits.

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