AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Case Study

Common Cause v. Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity

Protecting Voters from the Pence-Kobach Commission

Democracy Forward is representing Common Cause and voters from Florida, Texas, and New York in a suit that seeks to halt the Trump Administration’s unprecedented and unlawful investigation into the voting history of individual American voters.

The suit – which was filed against the Presidential Advisory Committee on Election Integrity, the Commission’s Vice-Chair Kris Kobach, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) – alleges that the Commission is violating the Privacy Act of 1974, a post-Watergate privacy law that broadly prohibits federal agencies from collecting, maintaining, and/or disseminating information concerning how any individual exercises rights guaranteed by the First Amendment. The suit also alleges that DHS is violating the Privacy Act by disclosing citizenship information to the Commission and that the Commission and Kobach himself have acted ultra vires, clearly outside any applicable legal authority, in investigating individual voters.

In cooperation with multiple other federal agencies, the Commission has already launched a sweeping investigation targeting individual voters based on unsubstantiated assertions of “voter fraud” made by President Trump. To this end, it has requested that all 50 states and the District of Columbia furnish voting data on all their citizens, including First Amendment-protected information regarding individuals’ voting history and political party affiliation. Multiple states have already complied. The Commission has also held public hearings accepting evidence and testimony identifying thousands of specific individuals alleged to have committed wrongdoing, who the Commission says should be investigated.

As a result of the Commission’s collection of personal information, thousands of voters have already de-registered from the rolls. Others are gravely concerned about how their First Amendment-protected personal data will be used by the Commission.

Our suit seeks to enjoin the Commission’s continued collection and use of this data. It further seeks to halt the Commission’s plan to crosscheck this voter data against troves of private data on individuals held by the federal government, including private data held by DHS. Because the government has cast our plaintiffs allegations regarding the investigation and crosscheck as speculative, and has attempted to deny allegations that they are conducting an investigation we are seeking discovery into the Commission’s files to rebut their denials.

As Common Cause president Karen Hobert Flynn said, “The government can’t go on a fishing expedition for personal data on Americans’ constitutionally-protected activities. We’ve seen how this played out before – and after Watergate the Congress said, no more. It’s time to uphold that promise.”

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