BOB GARFIELD: This is On the Media. I’m Bob Garfield.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And I'm Brooke Gladstone. Many of you listening know that there is no evidence, none, to back up the President's charge of widespread voter fraud. And so many of you may have cheered this latest development about the President's commission to root out this fictitious fraud.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The Trump administration is requesting detailed voter information from all 50 states and many states are saying they will not comply.
MALE CORRESPONDENT: We’re seeing the body slam going on by 44 states. Forty-four states, Republicans and Democrats, have said no to the Trump Fraud Commission's request for voter information.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: The secretary of state of Mississippi has said to the Commission it can go and jump in the Gulf of Mexico, and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here, finally, a measure of comfort to those concerned not at all about voter fraud but seriously worried about voter suppression. That does occur and is likely to increase if Trump's Commission has its way. Run by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, it was created to find fraud by any means necessary and to use those findings to pass laws that further suppress the vote. So, many find solace in reports of bipartisan pushback.
But ProPublica’s Jessica Huseman says that those stories don't mean what we think they mean. Jessica, welcome back to the show.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Thank you for having me.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So, in late June, the Voter Fraud Commission sent letters out to officials in all 50 states, asking for voter information. What specifically did they want?
JESSICA HUSEMAN: The letter, itself, was incredibly sloppily done. They said, we want your publicly-available voter rolls. But then the letter went on to suggest that they give them things that are never public in almost any state, like the last four digits of your Social Security number, your felon status, your full date of birth. And so, depending on how you read the letter, they were either asking for just publicly-available information or they were asking for all of this stuff that could, in fact, be a privacy violation.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: But I guess most important is that in many states the whole voter roll is publicly-available information.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right, in Washington, in North Carolina, you just go on to the Secretary of State’s website and download the most recent version of the voter roll. What you’re probably gonna get is first name, last name, year of birth, maybe party affiliation and the number of times and in which elections you have previously voted but not how you voted. That’s how parties contact you with mailers. That's how people know that they should knock on your door. So I think that it's really important for people to understand that even if it appears that your state is not cooperating with Kris Kobach, they will probably get their hands on the publicly-available voter roll.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Because they have to.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Because they have to, right? So, you know, this past weekend was the National Association of Secretaries of State, and they all gathered in Indianapolis to chat about election administration and cyber security and all the things the secretaries of states do. And one of the things that I heard from all over the board was that [LAUGHS] the media was getting this wrong.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: And you offer a stunning example of this.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Mm-hmm. [AFFIRMATIVE]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Here are different headlines for the same Associated Press article that ran on July 1st. “Iowa election official says he'll share public voter data.” “Pate pushes back on Iowa voter data request.”
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Let us identify Paul Pate as Iowa’s secretary of state.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right. Pending on how you interpret the letter that Kris Kobach sent, one or all of those things could be true, right? So what Pate has done is he has said, I will give the publicly-available voter roll to Kris Kobach, because he doesn't really have any choice. His state law makes the voter roll public. Or he's pushing back because he's not giving them the last four digits –
BROOKE GLADSTONE: The last four digits of their Social Security number.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right, exactly.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Okay, so there was one response that was getting a lot of press, from Mississippi. It’s Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann said, “They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico.”
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right. [LAUGHS]
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Isn’t Hosemann a pretty staunchly right guy?
JESSICA HUSEMAN: He is. And you know what? This is a concern that a lot of secretaries of state have. The Constitution gives election administration to the states to be in charge of. From all secretaries of state that I have spoken to, every single one, they are concerned that this is a massive federal overreach.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Seems like finally, finally this partisan divide has been breached to protect something that is precious and essential, but you say it's dangerous to take comfort in this.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right. You know, I was having this really interesting conversation with Myrna Pérez at the Brennan Center, and they’re big advocates for voter rights. She said to me, every single time any of these major media companies say –
MALE CORRESPONDENT: At least 44 states, along with the District of Columbia, are now refusing to provide –
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Forty-four states have refused the Trump administration’s request –
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Well, now 44 states and the District are pushing back.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: How many people have tweeted at me, I’m glad that my personal information is safe because my governor has said that they won't participate, when, in fact, states are participating.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: I guess the other part of this, and this is your scoop, is what Kobach and the Commission are planning to do with these voter rolls once they come in.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: One thing that Kris Kobach has previously said he'd like to do is run voter rolls against a database called SAVE, which is a list of all of the immigrants in the United States who are presently moving through the citizenship track, okay? So it’s a big list of noncitizens.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: In 2012, didn't Florida Governor Rick Scott do that very thing?
JESSICA HUSEMAN: He did, in fact. And what happened was that he was getting so many false positives that he had to scrap the effort entirely.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: How do you get a false positive?
JESSICA HUSEMAN: These databases don't include, as we now know, the Social Security number of the individual, which might be a unique identifying number. If I have a Matt Schwartz from Indiana and I’ve got a Matt Schwartz from Oklahoma and they both have the same Social Security number and they both have the same year of birth, then it's probably the same dude. But if I only have his first name, last name and I know that he was born in 1985, there are like hundreds of Matt Schwartz that were born in 1985.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Or maybe Manuel Gonzalezes.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Right, and so you're going to get a bunch of people who appear to be noncitizens but, in fact, are citizens and are legally registered to vote. That is what’s happened in Florida. Experts tell me that’s what’s going to happen now.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This Commission can point to numbers that suggest massive fraud, which are actually a huge number of false positives because of this method that they're using.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Exactly. So when Kris Kobach tried this similar matching system in his own state, a study by Stanford political scientists this year found that for every 200 matches that Kris Kobach found using crosscheck, only one of them was a true match. So experts are worried that Kris Kobach will find this massive number of false positives and say, look how much potential fraud there is in the United States, and all of that will be bad information, And so, states will pass laws to prevent fraudulent registrations that don't exist but will, in fact, restrict the right to vote.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: So there is this theory going around that the Commission asked for things in that strangely-worded letter, knowing that officials couldn’t share some of that information, by their own laws in their states, but that simply by refusing it gives the White House the opening to charge that the states must be up to something.
FEMALE CORRESPONDENT: Mr. Trump tweeting, “Numerous states are refusing to give information to the very distinguished VOTER FRAUD PANEL. What are they trying to hide?”
BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is seen by some as a kind of fiendishly clever Three-Dimensional Chess.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Kris Kobach is not playing a game of Three-Dimensional Chess. He is playing Paintball, right?
Kris Kobach thinks that there is voter fraud. He has a target and he is going to hit it. You know and I know exactly what he is going to do. This Commission is gonna produce a lot of talking points. I am not convinced that it will produce a lot of policy change.
At the Secretary of State's conference last weekend, I got the impression that they were all concerned that this matching system was going to be bad. That did not stop at party doors. And if they’re concerned about the veracity of the data that Kobach is going to produce, then I think that they probably will not act on the information that is given to them by this Commission.
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BROOKE GLADSTONE: Well, Jessica Huseman, you can knock me over with a feather.
You left us with some consolation, after all.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: Sure.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Thank you very much.
JESSICA HUSEMAN: You’re welcome.
BROOKE GLADSTONE: Jessica Huseman covers voting rights and fair elections for ProPublica.
BOB GARFIELD: Coming up, citizen journalists in Syria and a radio host in Iraq fight ISIS in a gruesome messaging war. And that war has a death toll.