South Carolina’s Election Commission on Thursday said it would not submit voter information sought by a White House advisory commission.
The commission made the decision after determining a request from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity earlier this week may violate state law. Election Commission spokesman Chris Whitmire said the agency staff determined it could not share information such as voters’ names, birthdates and participation history with entities from out of state. “The (Commission) has determined that release of voter data to anyone who is not a registered South Carolina voter is not permitted by state law,” he said in a statement. “The agency may only provide voter data to registered South Carolina voters.”
Earlier this week, the White House commission’s Vice Chair Kris Kobachs asked state officials in a letter to weigh in on potential changes to federal laws or vulnerabilities in the system and information on “election-related crimes” which have occurred in the state since 2000. The letter then requested names, dates of birth, political party, last four Social Security digits, elections voted in since 2006, voting status, felony convictions, registration in other states, military status and overseas voting.
South Carolina does not record party affiliations (although it does record if a voter participated in a party primary). The state also keeps confidential Social Security numbers and any individual voter’s criminal history. The Election Commission is allowed to sell information on names, age and which elections a voter cast ballots, but the buyer must be a registered South Carolina voter.
Whitmire emphasized the commission’s decision was not a political statement on Kobach’s request, since it would have been denied to any out-of-state individual, research group or business for the same reason. The release did not say if the agency would grant the request if the White House commission used a South Carolina resident to obtain the same publicly-available information, although the law does require the resident pay for the data.
When asked if a registered South Carolina voter could simply buy the information and turn it over to the White House, Whitmire said state law would not stop them. “We’re required to provide this information to any South Carolina voter who requests it,” he said. “We can’t control what a voter does after they have the list. We do inform them of state laws that prohibit the use of this information for commercial purposes, but what a voter does with it after they have it we have no control over that.”
The commission’s members are appointed by the governor. While staff made the decision, Whitmire said Chairman Charles Way, Jr., is aware of the action.
Gov. Henry McMaster tweeted hints Monday that he would be okay with the commission releasing information that is already publicly available. “They are required to make the list available to the public upon request and Social Security numbers are never disclosed,” his official account tweeted. “Constitution ensures voters ballot choices will always be secret. Americans have died protecting this freedom.”
McMaster, an early Trump supporter, was much more restrained in his response than counterparts in other states, who questioned the White House’s motives in seeking personally-identifying information. More than two dozen states (mostly Democratic-controlled) have already partially or completely rejected the request. Trump responded to the backlash from states, tweeting over the weekend, “What are they trying to hide?”