Delbert Hosemann doesn’t have the profile of a member of the Resistance. For one thing, he’s a Republican elected official. He’s also from Mississippi, where Donald Trump won nearly 58 percent of the vote in an election that Hosemann, as secretary of state, personally oversaw.
But the 70-year-old Hosemann became the latest hero of anti-Trump activists and journalists late last month when he issued a preemptive shot across the bow of the Trump administration and its “Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.” The commission, chaired by Vice President Mike Pence, is tasked with submitting a report on the integrity of American elections and the “vulnerabilities” in voting systems.
To this end, it has been asking state elections officials to provide a set of data on everyone who voted in the 2016 election. Most of the requested information is standard stuff: names, addresses, dates of birth, voting histories. But the commission also wants to know which voters had felony convictions, if any were registered in another state, and (wherever available) the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.
The official request had not yet reached Hosemann on June 30, but a fellow secretary of state had told him what was to come. “In the event I were to receive correspondence from the Commission,” he announced in a statement, “My reply would be: They can go jump in the Gulf of Mexico and Mississippi is a great state to launch from.”
Other elections officials quickly got in on the pithy public-rejection game. Kentucky secretary of state Alison Lundergan Grimes, a Democrat, cheekily said there was “not enough bourbon” in the Bluegrass State to make her comply. Terry McAuliffe, the Democratic governor of Virginia, said he would not fulfill the request and called the commission’s existence a “pretext to validate Donald Trump’s alternative election facts.”
So far, 14 states and the District of Columbia have refused to provide the requested materials, with 16 more still considering the request. The resistance (so to speak) is not strictly partisan: In addition to Mississippi, several of the states have Republicans in charge of their elections. And even among the 20 states who are complying, most are unable or unwilling to turn over every piece of information requested.
No one better summed up the thrust of the states’ objection to the commission’s request than Maryland attorney general Brian Frosh. “I find this request for the personal information of millions of Marylanders repugnant; it appears designed only to intimidate voters and to indulge President Trump’s fantasy that he won the popular vote,” said the Democrat. “Repeating incessantly a false story of expansive voter fraud, and then creating a commission to fuel that narrative, does not make it any more true.”
The genesis of the Commission on Election Integrity was certainly President Trump’s unsubstantiated claim to lawmakers, just a few days after his inauguration, that between 3 million and 5 million illegal votes were cast for his opponent. The White House worked quickly to transmogrify this claim into a broader concern about the health of our electoral process. “I think in terms of registration, where you’ve got folks on rolls that have been deceased or moved or registered in two counties, this isn’t just about the 2016 election. This is about the integrity of our voting system,” said Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, on January 25.
The administration promised to look into the issue, and in May Trump established the commission, putting Mike Pence in charge and making Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas—a staunch enforcer of strict voter ID laws—its vice chairman. In June, Hans von Spakovsky, a voting rights expert at the Heritage Foundation and a former official in the George W. Bush Justice Department, was named to a position on the commission. All in all, it’s a lot of time and resources being expended to justify Trump’s spurious claim.
But is the commission’s request really “repugnant”? Almost all of the data the White House is asking for are publicly available to anyone willing to pay. There are voter-data services that maintain large databases of information from state election commissions. One D.C.-based company, Aristotle International, overlays such information with other consumer data and sells it to political campaigns.
The amount of voter data, and the permutations of possible search criteria, that Aristotle sells is astounding and a bit overwhelming. Full names, dates of birth, home addresses, voter history—it’s all there. About the only pieces of information the president’s commission requested that aren’t available for purchase are Social Security numbers and felony convictions. But for a price, anyone—even the president of the United States—can have the rest.
The bigger the electorate, the greater the cost. For data from California, which cast just under 14.5 million votes in 2016, Aristotle would charge you $433,398.21. For Wyoming, where only 250,000 voters went to the polls, you can get the complete data set for $7,682.64. Maryland’s 2016 data (2.8 million votes) costs $84,290.80, Arizona’s (2.4 million votes) $72,885.18.
The information isn’t cheap. Jarrod Agen, a spokesman for Vice President Pence, said the commission hasn’t discussed purchasing the voter data from recalcitrant states. But despite Delbert Hosemann’s invitation, there’s no need for Trump’s commission to jump into the Gulf of Mexico to get Mississippi’s data. A check made out to Aristotle for $35,591.10 would do it.
And as Aristotle’s national data sales manager Kori Bishop notes, there’s a price break when buying in bulk. “If President Trump came and knocked on my door,” Bishop said, “I would give him a discount.”
Michael Warren is a senior writer at The Weekly Standard.