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Voting Commissioner Kris Kobach Defends U.S. Request For Voter Information


Kris Kobach is the vice chairman of the White House commission on voting and elections. He's also the secretary of state of Kansas. Welcome to the program.

KRIS KOBACH: Great to be with you.

SHAPIRO: Why are you requesting this information about voters around the country?

KOBACH: Well, this is publicly available information. It's just the voter rolls that any person on the street can walk into a county election office and get. It's not sensitive information at all. And the reason we're requesting it is to understand issues of voter registration fraud and things like that. You actually have to have the voter rolls.

SHAPIRO: You said there's nothing private about this information, but there are also concerns about security - having it in one national database.

KOBACH: What people need to be concerned about and rightly concerned about is the security of the actual database itself because the database itself that each state has does have some sensitive information in it that is not publicly available. We're not asking for that. But one of the things the commission will study is how well-protected are the states' voter rolls against someone who's trying to hack and modify those records? And that's something the public desperately needs to know because of course there were allegations that Russia attempted to try to get into the voter rolls, that other private individuals may have tried to get into the states' voter rolls.

SHAPIRO: And yet Russian hacking is not part of what your commission is looking into, is it?

KOBACH: Well, the security of the databases is. So to the extent that Russia or anybody else tries to hack into a state's voter rolls, then yes, that is something that goes right to the machinery of elections and threatens our democracy. This commission is all about looking at the voting system and keeping it secure.

SHAPIRO: How do you reassure people who are concerned that this information will be used to restrict, deter or otherwise disenfranchise legitimate voters from accessing the polls?

KOBACH: Well, I don't even understand the argument because how is it that taking publicly available information and just analyzing it restricts your access to the polls?

SHAPIRO: If you get a list of voters and conclude that a certain number of those people are deceased or no longer living in the state, how do you know that the information is accurate and that legitimate voters are not being prohibited from going to the polls?

KOBACH: First of all, it's important to note that the federal government doesn't have the authority to take anybody off of any voter rolls. The states are in control of each of their voter rolls in the 50 states. Now, if the federal commission says, hey, it looks like in your state there are a thousand people who are deceased, yet if they hadn't been removed from the rolls; here are the names, the state can't go in and remove them immediately. There's a federal statute called the National Voter Registration Act that stipulates how you remove people from the voter rolls when you believe that they're deceased or you believe that they have moved out of state. So none of that changes. All of the protections against people being removed from voter rolls too hastily remain in place.

SHAPIRO: If states do not comply with a request, does your commission have any authority to force them?

KOBACH: The commission does not have the authority to force. It's simply an ask. And frankly, if a state like Kentucky or California apparently won't provide publicly available information, one has to ask the question, why not? I mean what are they trying to hide if they don't want a presidential advisory commission to study their state's voter rolls?

SHAPIRO: Finally, this commission was created after President Trump claimed without evidence that millions of people voted illegally thereby depriving him of a popular vote win. Do you believe that that is what happened?

KOBACH: I don't know. The commission's purpose is not to prove or disprove what President Trump said back in January or February. The purpose of the commission...

SHAPIRO: Every objective observer has said there is zero evidence of millions of people voting illegally. It seems striking that as one of the leaders of a commission on voting integrity, you're not willing to say the same.

KOBACH: Well, I guess it all depends on what you define as evidence, right? So you know, you don't have hard data, but it is certainly something that we may be able to see some evidence. I seriously doubt we'll have a definitive answer, but at least - why not collect evidence and just get the facts on the table? That would be a good service to the American public - period.

SHAPIRO: Kris Kobach, vice chair of President Trump's commission on voting and elections, also running for governor of Kansas, thank you for joining us.

KOBACH: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.