Press release: Voter data case undermines election integrity

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Contact:  Max Hailperin

As Voter Data Case Goes to Court, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota Pushes Back

Minneapolis, June ​21, 2018—The Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA) reached the end of one legal journey ​last week with the United States Supreme Court's decision regarding political apparel at polling places. On Friday, June 22nd, they'll start over in Ramsey County District Court with a new argument, demanding ​that ​the state of Minnesota give them personal information on millions of registered voters and former registered voters, including even those who have explicitly asked to have their data kept private for the sake of their family's safety. Although the MVA claims the state must make this data available to any requester no matter the purpose, they are telling the court that their own use is a valuable one. That assertion might have gone unchallenged had MVA not tried to buttress it with repeated comparisons to another organization, Citizens for Election Integrity Minnesota (CEIMN). In response, CEIMN strongly rejects the analogy between the two organizations' methods and explains why the use the MVA would make of the data would be harmful to elections, not helpful.

The MVA compares itself with CEIMN in its court briefs, including a motion for summary judgment. In asserting that their demand for public access is “for public and legislative benefit,” they describe their intended data analysis as “little different” from CEIMN’s work. To that, Mark Halvorson, CEIMN’s founder and current board member, says “not so fast.”

“We’re flattered to be taken as the standard for respectability,” Halvorson continued. “As the MVA points out, CEIMN has long advocated for verifiable, transparent, and accurate elections. However, we recognize that Minnesota’s professional election administrators—not just in St. Paul, but in all 87 counties—do the real work of achieving those goals, and we would never use selective, distorted data to cast that work in a bad light.”

A CEIMN analyst, Max Hailperin, has looked at the matching the MVA has done with already available data. “It’s reckless,” he says. “They find two voters who have the same name and were born the same year, and they assume they are the same person. Never mind that the election administrators are checking additional information, like the month and date of birth, driver's license numbers, and social security numbers. The MVA doesn’t have that information, and they don’t trust the election administrators to have checked it, so they assume the worst. They assume the same person voted in two different parts of the state and the election administrators turned a blind eye to it. We’d never make an assumption like that.”

In their court briefs, the MVA also tries to draw support from a recent report by the Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA). They note the OLA identified over 26,000 individuals who voted in 2016 while their registration records were marked “challenged,” indicating some question as to their eligibility. They also note that when the OLA looked into the 612 challenges derived from felony convictions, only in a small number of cases was there evidence that the voter was in fact eligible to vote. Hailperin points out that the MVA omits the other half of what the OLA reported: that the number of cases with evidence of ineligibility was also small, noting that, “In most cases, the OLA simply couldn’t tell whether the voter was eligible or not. Again, the MVA puts the election administrators in the worst possible light, assuming that they let a bunch of ineligible people vote, just because the OLA couldn’t tell.”

That’s not the only way the MVA brief distorts the OLA report, Hailperin says. “They refer to the 612 felony-based challenges as ‘a small sample’ of the larger group of 26,000, implying that they are representative of the entirety.” In fact, the OLA clearly indicates that most of the 26,000 are very different in character, having resulted from changes of address. “It’s not surprising that someone with a change of address was allowed to vote,” Hailperin says. “They come back from their vacation home, explain that their address had temporarily changed, and are allowed to vote at their permanent residence. Or they explain that they moved and are allowed to re-register at their new residence and vote there. Either way, they quite properly vote. The challenge flag just alerts election officials to check which of these cases applies.”

The MVA’s case doesn’t actually hinge on any of these issues. Formally captioned Andrew Cilek and Minnesota Voters Alliance v. Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State and Steve Simon, in his official capacity as Minnesota Secretary of State (62-CV-17-4692), it is premised on the MVA’s belief that the state legislature required the Office of the Secretary of State to release the requested personal information to anyone—whether an election-integrity watchdog or a stalker. The state’s briefs respond to that legal theory, not the MVA’s grand claims of public good. “But the broader public ought to care,” Hailperin explains. “I’m sure Judge Frisch is sophisticated enough not to be distracted by irrelevancies. But the rest of us need to know that in exchange for a really troubling disclosure of personal information, all we could expect to get is more irresponsible, alarmist cherry picking by the MVA.”

For CEIMN, the bottom line is this: if the MVA wins, fewer people will be willing to register and to vote. Says Halvorson, “the most accurate vote count in the world doesn’t help if those who are eligible to register and vote are afraid to do so. Whether they’re afraid of stalkers or of being recklessly accused of voter fraud, this fear the MVA is stoking is itself a threat to election integrity.”​​