Trump Election Commission Should Focus on Russian Meddling, California Democrats Say

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California Secretary of State Alex Padilla speaks at a press conference on July 19, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

As President Trump’s controversial election commission held its first meeting in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday, California Democrats were also in the nation’s capital -- denouncing the group’s work.

California Secretary of State Alex Padilla has been among the most outspoken critics of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, created by Trump after his repeated unsubstantiated claims that millions of illegal votes were cast in last year’s presidential election -- many in California.

The commission raised the hackles of both Republican and Democratic state officials last month when it sent a letter to all 50 states, asking for detailed  personal information of all registered voters -- including things like party affiliation, birthdates, partial Social Security numbers and voting history. The commission ended up putting that request on hold after seven lawsuits were filed, challenging the group's conduct and legality.

But before the request was paused, officials from 44 states said they would not or could not hand over some or all of the desired voter data, many citing state laws.

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Padilla said Wednesday that if Trump was serious about making U.S. elections more secure, he’d be focused outside the country’s borders.

"I mean, it's baffling. ... The intelligence community is unanimous in its conclusion there was Russian interference with our elections, but instead of accepting that finding and acting on it, the president has chosen to ignore it, and investigate American citizens instead," Padilla said.

"Every day that goes by that the president continues to ignore or deny the Russian interference of our elections, is a day less we have to prepare for the 2018 elections and making sure that they are safe and secure as possible."

Padilla, California's top election official, was in Washington, D.C., meeting with voting rights groups and Silicon Valley congresswoman Anna Eshoo, a Democrat who penned a letter this week asking the commission to permanently withdraw the voter information request.

The letter was signed by 72 other Democratic lawmakers -- and Eshoo said Republicans have also, privately, expressed their concerns.

Eshoo praised Padilla’s refusal to cooperate with the commission's request for personal information. She thinks the commission will be used as a pretense to push laws that make it harder for Americans to vote, noting that its vice chair, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, is well known for his dubious claims of widespread illegal voting.

"According to the FBI, names, birthdates, Social Security numbers are among most critical pieces of information that criminals need to commit identity theft," Eshoo said, adding that the commission is proposing to store all this private information in a single, centralized federal database.

"Housing all of our country's voter reg information in one single place makes it vulnerable to identity thieves and foreign actors who want to influence our elections," Eshoo said. "This request for sensitive voter data represents, I think, an appalling threat to the privacy of hundreds of millions of Americans."