State Politics

Idaho is touchy about giving personal data to feds. How will it handle election request?

Ada County’s mobile voting booth helped encourage people to vote in November.
Ada County’s mobile voting booth helped encourage people to vote in November.

For $20 — about 1,200 Russian rubles, at current exchange rates — you too can obtain a CD with data on Idaho’s 800,000 voters.

The Secretary of State’s Office handed out 200 of them last year to candidates, political parties and others who filed a public records request for the data and paid the fee. The records include name and address, gender, age (but not date of birth), party affiliation and what elections they voted in — but not how they voted or who for, which is never collected.

It’s the same, whether you’re a candidate for office in Moscow, Idaho, or just a curious party from, well, that other Moscow.

That’s all the information that Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney says he would release to a presidential commission that is seeking voter registration info data in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. At last count, 44 states have said they will not comply. President Donald Trump created the Advisory Commission on Election Integrity to investigate whether there was voter fraud in last year’s election.

The commission on Monday wrote to state election officials telling them to stand down pending a judge’s ruling in Washington, D.C., on a privacy rights group’s effort to block the commission’s request.

“There was no demand in the letter. It said anything that was publicly available,” Denney said of the commission’s June 30 request. “I won’t turn over anything that’s not publicly available.”

Besides the basic data, Trump’s commission asked states to submit partial Social Security numbers and information on felony convictions and military status — if the state already makes that information public.

Idaho’s voter registration does ask for a date of birth and partial Social Security number, if a driver’s license number is not provided for ID. But those details are not considered public information and would not be released. The state doesn’t track felony convictions or military status, so there’s nothing to release there.

“The office has gotten quite a few calls saying don’t release my data, but at the same time the data we would be releasing is public information,” Denney said.

Idaho has typically been sensitive to citizens’ concerns about the state sharing their data with the federal government. It took years for the Legislature to reach a compromise on how to implement the federal REAL ID requirements for enhanced identification on state driver’s licenses. (Idaho is issuing two types of licenses — enhanced and not.)

While the voter data sought might be public record, opponents in Idaho and elsewhere object more out of concern for the commission’s underlying motives and a possible political agenda out of the White House. If the aim is to root out suspected potential voter fraud, Idaho’s voting procedures get high ratings for transparency and integrity.

The state Democratic Party has gone to state court to block Denney from complying. An initial hearing on their move was held Thursday afternoon, and Democratic officials said they are negotiating a possible settlement. Dean Ferguson, executive director of the party, said Thursday he can’t comment on the details of the settlement, but expects a decision to be finalized soon.

While Denney says he won’t send all the information sought by the commission, “he simply failed to offer assurances that this is even a legal request or that the information will be safeguarded and kept private,” state Democratic Party Chairman Bert Marley said in a statement.

Separately, Democratic state lawmakers are set to meet with Denney to outline their concerns. That meeting, originally scheduled for Friday, has been pushed forward to Tuesday pending a ruling in the Washington, D.C., case.

“I’m not comfortable with any of this. I don’t see the justification for doing this in the first place. That is really the issue,” said state Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise. “What is the information for and what is the purpose of this commission? It just doesn’t make sense. There’s no demonstrated need for any of this.”

Bill Dentzer: 208-377-6438, @DentzerNews