POLITICS

Judge Blocks Texas From Giving Voting Information To Trump Voter Fraud Probe

The judge said cooperating with the federal commission could violate voter privacy and chill free speech.

10/05/2017 14:58 EDT

A Texas judge has temporarily blocked the state from handing over voter information to President Donald Trump’s commission on voter fraud, saying doing so could jeopardize privacy.

State District Judge Tim Sulak on Tuesday granted a League of Women Voters request for a temporary restraining order, blocking Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos (R) from disclosing information sought by the federal probe.

The Trump commission requested voter data from all 50 states on June 28, setting off a wave of concern from election officials about surrendering the sensitive data. Some states refused to comply, while others said state laws prevented them from cooperating. So far, 19 states and one county in Hawaii have turned over information to the commission, according to documents filed in a separate lawsuit.

“The injury resulting from such acts will be irreparable,” Sulak wrote in his order blocking Texas from disclosing voter data. “If the private information contained in the Texas Computerized Voter Registration List is transmitted without appropriate safeguards, it is likely to become public.” Releasing that information, the judge added, could violate the plaintiffs’ privacy rights and lead to “chilling of their First Amendment rights.”

The ruling is a victory for the League of Women Voters of Texas and the state conference of the NAACP, which brought the lawsuit, as well as other voting advocates who say Trump’s commission will try to twist the data to create an exaggerated picture of voter fraud in the United States. Several studies and investigations have shown it is not a widespread problem

Sam Taylor, a spokesman for the Texas secretary of state, declined to comment on the restraining order, citing pending litigation. He noted the office receives hundreds of requests for voter information each year.

The voter fraud commission didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Andrew Kossack, the commission’s designated federal officer, said in a court filing Friday that voter information provided to the commission would not be made public to safeguard personal privacy.

Texas election law sets certain qualifications for when election officials can release voter information. They cannot disclose any information containing a voter’s Social Security number to anyone who plans to use it for a commercial purpose.

“Texas must do what is required under state law and protect voter information in their possession,” said Elaine Wiant, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, said in a statement.

In addition to a handful of lawsuits at the state level, Trump’s commission is facing several lawsuits in federal court. Some of those lawsuits argue that the commission didn’t perform a necessary review for collecting state data. So far, federal judges have declined to block the commission from collecting information.

The commission has indicated it plans to match voter data with a Department of Homeland Security database of non-citizens to identify voter fraud. That method has been used in the past and has produced unreliable results.

A hearing in the Texas lawsuit is scheduled for Oct. 16 in Austin.

Read the full order below: 

 

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