Columns » Max Brantley

We're No. 1! in vote suppression

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It's not often that Arkansas can claim national leadership, so give Secretary of State Mark Martin credit for something.

As of Friday last week only a single state had responded to the hotly controversial request by an "election integrity commission" appointed by Donald Trump for massive amounts of voter information – including registration information, military records, criminal records, partial Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers.

After claiming for a week the office hadn't received the request, Martin's office simultaneously acknowledged at the first of last week its receipt and made an immediate electronic transfer of some voter registration information to the commission, led by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach and Martin are pals, so close that a friend of Martin's, former Arkansas legislator-turned-lobbyist David Dunn, got a seat on the commission. Kobach has raised bogus voter fraud allegations for years. He produced a widely derided voter information matchup among the states that proved definitively how stupid you can look in alleging voting fraud on little more proof than the existence of people named John Doe in multiple states.

By Friday, only Arkansas had complied. Only Arkansas. What was the hurry? A federal lawsuit was pending that challenges the data drive. The majority of states were reluctant to cooperate. A number of Republican officeholders, including in Mississippi and Arizona, flatly refused. They wouldn't even provide information that is acknowledged to be public information. Then Monday, the commission asked states NOT to comply for the time being. It may not have followed federal law in attempting to round up personal information for electronic sharing. Too late for Arkansas.

Even Governor Hutchinson, who'd earlier seemed sanguine with release of information that was made public by the office, told Governor's School students Monday night that sharing even this public information with the feds was not a good idea. Martin's office said the governor isn't the boss of them. It also said Martin was just following the law, though that's arguable since only Arkansas citizens are entitled to protection of the Freedom of Information Act, not some federal commission apparently operating outside federal boundaries.

People all over the U.S. – Democrats and Republicans – have made clear they aren't happy to give the world their birthdate, street address, telephone number and the party primaries they favor. Some have begun canceling voter registration to protect themselves.

Using Martin as example, this information is what he gave Kobach on 1.7 million Arkansas people:

Martin was born Feb. 18, 1968. He was registered in Washington County Dec. 1, 2003. His phone number (optional, but many supply it) is 479-846-1889. His residence is at 123 N. Pittman St., Prairie Grove, AR 72753. He votes in Precinct 560 in Prairie Grove. He affiliated with the Republican Party March 20, 2006. He last voted Nov. 8, 2016. He voted in Republican primaries in 2008, 2010, 2014 and 2016. He lives in the 3rd Congressional District, state Senate District 2, state House District 80 and school District 195.

These are building blocks for impersonation, not to mention aggravation. The person who answered the phone at Martin's house wasn't too happy about the calls placed there after his number was made public.

True, this information is public. You can buy the computerized data for a bargain $2.50. But this doesn't excuse facilitating universal access or volunteering to be a vote suppression guinea pig for Kris Kobach.

The effort is designed to produce information that could show Donald Trump didn't lose the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by 3 million ballots. But the future use is the real issue, not Trump's ego.

Vote suppression is in the Republican DNA. Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin was hip-deep in George W. Bush voter suppression efforts in Florida in 2004, where active duty military were purged because they were serving overseas when voter address verification cards were mailed. Arkansas's Republican legislature just passed a new Voter ID law and sent to voters an even more onerous constitutional amendment aimed at making it harder to vote.

Mark Martin's national leadership in sharing personal Arkansas voter data is just one more piece of a long-running political dirty trick.

LATE-BREAKING: As a result of the lawsuit, the federal commission has said it will “delete” Arkansas information submitted early, according to a spokesman for Martin.

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