President Donald Trump’s defunct voter fraud commission requested that the state of Texas identify voters with Hispanic surnames when providing voter data to the commission.
The news was revealed in a Dec. 19 letter and accompanying records from the General Services Administration (GSA) to Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-MO), published by the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, of which McCaskill is ranking member. The commission operated under the purview of the GSA.
The request was first reported Monday by the Washington Post.
The news will add to concerns among voting rights advocates that the short-lived commission was aimed at making it more difficult for certain groups, including racial minorities, to vote.
Among the documents: an invoice from the Texas Secretary of State to Ronald Williams II, then a staffer on the commission. In October, Williams left the commission after being charged with multiple counts of possessing and distributing child pornography.
“Hispanic surname flagged,” the invoice notes.
The Post reported that Texas maintains a list of voters with Hispanic surnames — based on Census Bureau data — in order to determine if bilingual election notices are necessary, as required by law.
The data request was never fulfilled, the Post noted, due to a lawsuit from voting rights advocates in the state that temporarily stopped the transfer. The paper also noted, based on data published by the Texas Monthly, that one in eight Texas voter data requests from January 2015 and July 2017 included flags for Hispanic surnames.
The defunct election integrity commission’s vice chairman, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, professed ignorance to the Post of any such request.
“It’s a complete surprise to me,” Kobach said, adding: “Mr. Williams did not ask any member of the commission whether he should check that box or not, so it certainly wasn’t a committee decision.”
Kobach said the “information does not, did not advance the commission’s inquiry in any way, and this is the first I’ve heard the Texas files included that.”
He said he didn’t know “what sort of data analysis you would do even remotely relevant to it” and that only requesting such data for one state would render it “useless.”
But a White House official who appeared to have knowledge of the request told the Post, in the publication’s words, “that given the option in Texas, the commission asked to identify Hispanic surnames to resolve data discrepancies or confusion caused by the traditional Spanish naming convention that uses the surnames of both parents.”
The unnamed official added: “There was never a request made to flag people based on their ethnicity. […] That was never asked for, nor is that what this [Texas] response is saying, though I can see why some could read it that way.”
J. Christian Adams, a conservative former commission member who’s spent a career attempting to purge voter roles of suspected fraudulent voters, called the story “a tempest in a teapot,” according to the Post.
But Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, one of four Democrats on the commission when it folded and now a plaintiff in a lawsuit aimed at forcing it to disclose its records, told the Post the request was “shocking.”
“I find it shocking that they would flag voter names by ethnicity or race, to discover what, we don’t know,” he said, adding: “Right now on its face in my view it looks bad, and it looks bad to a lot of people.”