US judge allows Trump election commission to seek voting data

Citizens vote on a basketball court at a recreation center serving as polling place during the US general election in Greenville, on Nov 8, 2016.
Citizens vote on a basketball court at a recreation center serving as polling place during the US general election in Greenville, on Nov 8, 2016. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - A US judge on Monday (July 24) rejected a bid to prevent President Donald Trump's commission on alleged election fraud from requesting voter roll data from states.

Washington-based US District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled in favor of the administration by refusing to block the commission from asking for the data. The decision was a loss for the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), a watchdog group, which filed a lawsuit challenging the commission's actions.

Studies have shown voter fraud is rare in US elections.

Trump, who set up the commission by executive order on May 12, charged without evidence last year that millions voted unlawfully in the November presidential election.

He won the Electoral College, which tallies wins in states and determines the presidential winner. But he lost the popular vote to his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.

Kollar-Kotelly said EPIC did not have grounds for an injunction in part because the collection of data by the commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, was not technically an action by a government agency so was not bound by laws that govern what such entities can do.

She also pointed out that the commission was an advisory body that does not have legal authority to compel states to hand over the data.

The panel, which met for the first time last week, ran headlong into controversy when its vice chair Kris Kobach, the secretary of state for Kansas and a high-profile advocate of tougher laws on immigration and voter identification, asked states to turn over voter information.

The data included names, the last four digits of Social Security numbers, addresses, birth dates, political affiliation, felony convictions and voting histories.

Some states refused, and others said they needed to study whether they could provide the data.