POLITICS
08/16/2017 04:46 pm ET Updated Aug 16, 2017

As Trump's Panel Seeks Personal Data, These Longtime Voters Cancel Their Registrations

Denver's director of elections expresses concern about people being "afraid to participate" in "a fundamental right of all Americans."

For nearly two decades, Connie Bair, 67, has volunteered to help officials in Denver make sure elections run smoothly.

She’s managed polling places and checked voter registrations when people came to vote. Sometimes, her work was more rote, like opening mail-in ballots and feeding them to counting machines, but she didn’t mind. She saw it as her way of giving back to her community. And she’s extremely proud of the way Colorado, a state that has implemented many voting innovations, conducts its elections.

But in early July, Bair read about the request by President Donald Trump’s commission on election integrity for information on voters in all 50 states. When she learned Colorado would hand over some of the requested data, Bair did something she never imagined: She took herself off the voter rolls.

Bair deregistered out of concern her privacy was at risk and because Trump’s commission hadn’t offered assurances about how the information would be stored. She plans to re-register ahead of local elections in November.

“I was just sitting, reading the news and I thought, well, ... I’m going to unregister and not be in the database,” she said in a phone interview with HuffPost. “I’m not exactly a rabble-rouser. ... It was kind of an odd thing for me to up and do, but I felt so strongly that they shouldn’t be doing this that I just had to do something.”

Critics have called the Trump-instigated probe an effort to look for a problem that doesn’t exist, as multiple studies and investigations have shown that voter fraud is not widespread. The commission instead will weaken confidence in election systems and lay the groundwork for more restrictive voting policies, the critics say.

After she deregistered, Bair told her husband what she had done. Bob Bair, 71, who also has worked at the polls on election days for about a decade, decided to withdraw his voter application, as well.

The Bairs didn’t know at the time that thousands of Colorado voters felt compelled to do the same. At least 5,000 of the state’s 3.3 million voters have deregistered since Trump’s commission made its request for voter information. Officials in several other states ― including Florida, North Carolina and Washington ― have reported similar efforts by voters wanting to be removed from registration rolls.

Amber McReynolds, Denver’s director of elections, told HuffPost she’s never seen a comparable surge in the number of people looking to deregister.

“To see people be afraid to participate, or sort of have that stress of their record being public or just to have that fear, is disheartening because you don’t want to see anything like that in the elections’ process, especially because it’s a fundamental right of all Americans,” McReynolds said.

Voting advocacy groups have expressed alarm at this trend, citing it as an example of how Trump was already succeeding in discouraging people from voting.

In late June, the commission sent a letter to all 50 states and the District of Columbia seeking “publicly available voter-roll data.” That included not only such basic information as full names, home addresses and ages but, if states were permitted to provide it, the history of a voter’s participation in elections, driver’s license numbers and the last four digits of Social Security numbers. It quickly became apparent that no jurisdictions would report the Social Security numbers, but many states have agreed to turn over some of the information sought by the commission. A handful of states have refused to comply at all. 

It bothered me that the Trump administration basically seemed to be wanting to prove, quote-unquote, that there are all kinds of illegal voters who are then going to drop out, or whatever. Bob Bair, a Coloradan who has canceled his voter registration.

In interviews with HuffPost, a handful of Coloradans who withdrew their voter registrations said they did so because they were scared about what Trump’s commission would do with their information. They also expressed frustration that Colorado Secretary of State Wayne Williams (R) said he was legally obligated to turn over some data to the panel.

While all of those contacted said they planned to reregister at some point, they said their temporary withdrawal was a way of voicing dissatisfaction with the commission’s bid to collect massive amounts of voter data.

“It bothered me that the Trump administration basically seemed to be wanting to prove, quote-unquote, that there are all kinds of illegal voters who are then going to drop out, or whatever,” Bob Bair said.

He said he and his wife “both wanted to get out of that because we didn’t like the politics behind it at all. We felt it was unnecessary and would prove nothing, would find nothing of the sort that Trump wanted.” 

Mary Friedrichs, 69, has been registered to vote for over three decades and said she hasn’t missed an election. When she heard about the commission’s information request, she contacted her local election office and asked them not to transit her data. When officials told her they were required by state law to make public certain information about voters, Friedrichs went online and deregistered.

Friedrichs said she was alarmed by that Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach (R), who she knew has pushed for more restrictive voting laws in his state, serves as the Trump commission’s vice chairman. She described deregistering as a “resistance act.”

“I did not fear that this information being handed over to the feds was going to somehow harm me in a way that my Social Security number might. What I wanted to do was act in a resistant sort of way because I disagree with the premise of the request,” she said. “If they can get the information another way, then let them work on that. Let them spend their energy on that, but why should it be handed to them on a silver platter?”

Darlene Jones has been registered to vote for 50 years. But when she heard of the commission’s data request, she deregistered because she feared how Trump might make use of her data.

“I deregistered because my privacy, my information, for this man who is in office, is private. He lies so much, he actually has put fear in my heart with everything that he’s doing, especially since I am a person of color,” she said. “Trump has lied so much, we don’t know what he’s going to actually do with our information.”

At the commission’s first meeting in July, Trump suggested states not turning over information were hiding something.

Kobach has said people cancelling their voter registrations were engaging in a “political stunt.” He has also suggested that people looking to deregister perhaps should not have been on the rolls in the first place. 

“It could be, actually, people who are not qualified to vote, perhaps someone who is a felon and is disqualified that way, or someone who is not a U.S. citizen saying, ‘I’m withdrawing my voter registration because I am not able to vote,’” he said in July.

Bob Bair scoffed at the suggestion he wasn’t qualified to be on the rolls.

“As far as I’m concerned, the current administration and Kobach and the rest are playing to the masses who are convinced, with no evidence whatsoever, that elections are being stolen because there are gazillions of illegal immigrants and people of color and you name it who are voting illegally,” he said. “I just laugh at that. It’s pathetic in a way and it’s sad the extent to which alternative facts are being spread in that way to spread gasoline on the fire of the right-wing base.”

Connie Bair, who joked that she was actually a dead person, dismissed Kobach’s “political stunt” comment.

She deregistered, she said, “out of a deep personal feeling that something was being done that shouldn’t be being done, and I don’t know how else one can stop it.”

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