Monday, October 25, 2021

Pennsylvania GOP fights transparency bill in order to collect data about voters

Image source: Robert L. Terry via Flickr.

There’s a one-year statute of limitations and everything else for submitting and reviewing public records to the Pennsylvania State Board of Elections. But state Republican leaders have an extension for the same records, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Republican officials are requesting “everything collected from voters statewide from 2013 through 2018” as part of a cost-saving scheme. And from its editorial, the Post-Gazette did not acknowledge that the extension likely violates a constitutional prohibition against privacy in public records.

The investigation seeks tens of millions of voter records and personal information on about 16 million voters who voted for Democrat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania in the 2016 election, the Post-Gazette reports. All of this information will be in databases shared by political campaigns and national groups, including prominent ones like the Republican National Committee and the Democratic National Committee.

“All public records in Pennsylvania allow for public, open access,” says a little-known state law. “So records must be clearly labelled with adequate detail, and public access must be open.”

The Post-Gazette reports that Republican elections officials will argue that they have the right to request and have a lower court destroy the voter records if voters try to correct the data they have already submitted:

To save the state money, the Republican state board of elections and state attorney general’s office sent an e-mail last fall proposing a pilot project in which election judges would keep records on voters when casting a ballot. The board first sent a letter to state and county election officials instructing them to use census data and a survey of state residents’ voting histories to collect the records, the affidavit said.

The request is part of a broader effort by Republican state election officials to collect the information so they can figure out if the election was stolen last year by the Russians in a conspiracy to help Donald Trump win the presidency.

Documents obtained by the Post-Gazette, including an e-mail for the board of elections, say that thousands of voters signed up for the “First Generation Voter Project” and then “went missing from the rolls.” One county elections official wrote that the system was “not designed to go after people who register and then bail out.”

Further complicating matters, the Post-Gazette reports that Republican officials will be relying on the date of the last individual voter mailing, which could be as soon as a month after they were submitted.

“Many Pennsylvanians will have seen the notices and in the same communication that showed they are not on the list we have the word ‘no’ circled on their termination notices,” election board spokesman Bob Dittmer said in an email to the Post-Gazette. “However, we are asking those voters to provide the information they were given by the local election official to assist us in locating them.”

The rest of the information from the records, the Post-Gazette reports, is to be kept for two years so state officials can check it periodically for changes. There is no deadline for the information to be destroyed, and once it is completed, the board of elections says it could run into issues with court orders and other litigation if someone tries to challenge the data.

While the initiative is aimed at tracking down Clinton voters in Pennsylvania, it likely should be undertaken for all of the nation’s voters. Any number of groups and individuals could receive this information, including political campaigns and third-party observers. Even voting machines will have access to the information, according to the paper.

But for now, the Post-Gazette reports that voter databases will be kept, but the cost of keeping them safe is unknown. The paper says one unidentified official estimated “that not a penny of taxpayer money was being spent” on the pilot project.

Democrats and privacy advocates have assailed the Republican-led effort, calling it “big and obscenely expensive”, Bloomberg reports.

[Pittsburgh Post-Gazette via Bloomberg]

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