Common Cause Sues to Protect Voters Under Privacy Act

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  • Scott Swenson
Urges Voters to Stay Registered in Defiance of Pence-Kobach Commission’s Disregard for the Law

The nonpartisan good government watchdog group Common Cause filed suit today to protect the privacy rights of voters, specifically seeking to prevent “the unlawful collection, maintenance, use, and dissemination of the sensitive and personal voting data of millions of Americans,” by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Social Security Administration. 

Also known as the Pence-Kobach Commission for its Chair and Vice-Chair, Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Common Cause asks the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to order the commission, DHS, and SSA to stop seeking and using the voter history and party affiliation of voters, and return any such data it has already obtained from any state.

The case alleges violations of the Privacy Act and the Administrative Procedure Act. Of several lawsuits filed against the commission, Common Cause is filing the only suit that, if successful, would permanently enjoin the collection of data.

“Every eligible American has a right to an equal voice and vote in the future of their family, community, and country,” said Karen Hobert Flynn, president of Common Cause. “The Privacy Act was passed in the wake of Watergate when the Nixon White House compiled information on individuals with opposing political views. It was wrong then and it is wrong now.” Common Cause’s founder, John Gardner, a Republican who was Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the Johnson Administration, was on Nixon’s infamous enemies’ list. 

“Common Cause wants every American to know we understand your concern and urge everyone to stay registered and engaged and fight this with your voice. Help us hold the Pence-Kobach Commission accountable. They are wrong and you should not give up your vote to protect your privacy,” Hobert Flynn said. Media around the country have reported on some voters “un-registering” because of the commission’s request for data.

The Pence-Kobach Commission’s first acts have flaunted the norms of our democracy by potentially violating open meetings laws with their first meetings, appointing commissioners that are in no way balanced and whose backgrounds indicate a preference for shrinking, rather than expanding, the electorate, and now by requesting voting data from the states in direct violation of the Privacy Act.

Voters in states, including more than 30,000 Common Cause members, are pushing back against the Pence-Kobach effort, sending in comments to the Commission that they will not be intimidated from exercising their freedom to vote. Many state election officials from both political parties have made clear their priority is protecting voter privacy. Mississippi’s Secretary of State went so far as to tell the Commission to go “jump in the Gulf of Mexico.” 

Many election experts are concerned about the composition of the commission and what it signals.

“The Pence-Kobach Commission has among its members those with long histories of pushing laws that make it harder for many Americans to vote and that kick eligible voters off the rolls for partisan gain,” said Hobert Flynn. Common Cause advocates for modernizing elections and making them more secure through automatic voter registration which also reduces costs to states and increases security.

To read the lawsuit, click here.