Perhaps one of the most confounding things about American politics are the assertions of things that simply are not true and firestorms of anger over actions that are nearly immaterial. Most of the time, most of us come up against these so late in the game that we have no idea how such misperceptions could have started, let alone become so powerful. But at the moment, here in Colorado, we can watch a vicious circle close on itself.
As has been widely reported, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has requested voter data from states. Created, apparently, out of Donald Trump’s insecurity over his Electoral College win and popular vote loss, the commission is charged with ferreting out voter fraud; its initial request appears to be an attempt to identify voters registered in multiple locations. Many such voters exist and include Steve Bannon, Tiffany Trump, Sean Spicer and Jared Kushner. Multiple registrations are legal, though voting in multiple places is not. At present, one kind of voter fraud that would not be caught would be voting in multiple states for a national election; thus the most likely fraud the commission could uncover would be people who have been registered in multiple states who vote for president more than once.
Set aside for the moment that the request itself is not capable of yielding data that the commission could reasonably use for its goals and instead focus on the chain of responses….
In Colorado, the Republican Secretary of State said he would provide the commission the publicly available information but withhold confidential data. Specifically, the datafile contains full names, addresses, political party, and voting history (meaning having voted, not what the votes were). The data provided is the same file that anybody can get from the state for $50. Indeed, it is far less informative than the numerous commercial databases that are out there for companies to use to try to sell you stuff. Public sharing of this information was defended by a Democratic County Clerk as important for democracy. So, no big deal, right?
Well, it should be no big deal, but not surprisingly, many voters were unaware that the state routinely shares such data. And of course a number decided their privacy was being invaded, or they were at risk for identity theft, or that the release of data was to be used for politically unacceptable purposes. And so a few thousand voters have asked to be removed from the list of registered voters. As these are probably Democratic leaning voters, you might think that the GOP would simply celebrate a possibly inadvertently successful partisan voter suppression action and go on its way.
But one good overreaction deserves another, and so some conservatives have concluded that these people are actually illegal voters. Never mind that the Secretary of State (currently a Republican) in Colorado has actively investigated possible voter fraud and found a total of 18 cases since 2000.
So now there are Democrats who would say that the president’s commission is violating their privacy (when it isn’t) and Republicans who say that widespread voter fraud is now proven (which it is not). And what is left of the rational part of the country is left wondering how we came to this point….