In the partisan battlefield of elective office, the National Association of Secretaries of State has always been a DMZ of sorts, an alliance of obscure officials who would rather talk charity regulations than politics, a conclave so committed to comity that it alternates its chair between Democrats (“a nonpartisan organization,” said Denise Merrell, the outgoing president) and Republicans (“we stand together,” said Connie Lawson, the incoming one). But as the group held its semiannual meeting here this weekend, a whiff of gunpowder wafted through the air. The secretaries had the bad timing to gather the week after the Presidential Advisory Commission on El ction Integrity asked them for reams of data on the nation’s 200 million registered voters, a request that might as well have been a political call to arms. News reports from Florida and Colorado stated that voters were asking to be removed from the rolls, fearing that their personal data would wind up in the wrong hands.
Democratic secretaries have largely denounced the request as a Republican plot to conjure evidence of voter fraud out of thin air, in order to bolster President Trump’s claim that three million or more illegal votes cost him a popular-vote victory in November’s election. “I can’t in good conscience legitimize this commission, which seems to have arrived at their conclusions even before they got started,” said Alex Padilla, the secretary of state of California and a Democrat. He refused to cooperate with the request.
Adding to their rancor was the fact that the request came from one of their own: the vice chairman and de facto leader of the commission, Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state. Mr. Kobach, a Republican and a bête noire to Democrats, insists that illegal voting, especially by undocumented immigrants, is unchecked and mostly undetected. He has called Mr. Trump’s claim plausible.
Republicans scrambled to distance themselves from the letter’s call for private data like birthdates and partial Social Security numbers without impugning their president’s claim or his commission. But giving the claim credibility placed them in the awkward position of saying either that other secretaries had overlooked millions of illegal votes, or that they had found them and lied about it.