Recently, the newly created Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity sent a letter to all fifty states asking them to submit extensive information about registered voters. The letter has created an uproar among state officials, and many have announced their intention to refuse the request. President Donald Trump has tweeted his disapproval of these state refusals. Overlooked in the controversy has been the rather obvious conclusion that, because the Commission on Election Integrity appears to have ignored the requirements of the Paperwork Reduction Act (PRA), its request is simply illegal.
The PRA was passed in 1980 with bipartisan support and signed by President Jimmy Carter. A central purpose of the law was to ensure that, before collecting information from the American public, federal agencies solicited public comment and received approval from the Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs (OIRA). In the 37 years since the passage of the PRA, tens of thousands of government information collections have gone through this process.
Yet the Commission’s request letter did not include any indication that it had been submitted for review through the PRA process. The PRA requires not only that OIRA review requests for information, but also that agencies include on any such request an approval number and an estimate of the time it will take for a respondent to provide the information requested.