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Voter Fraud Commission Sought Hispanic Voter Surnames: Shady, Or Just Weird?

Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon/KUT

From Texas Standard.

On Monday, the Washington Post broke the story of the now-defunct voter fraud commission purchasing Texas voter records. The story began:

“President Donald Trump’s voting commission asked every state and the District of Columbia for detailed voter registration data, but in Texas’ case it took an additional step: It asked to see Texas records that identify all voters with Hispanic surnames, newly released documents show.”

Officials from both the White House and the state of Texas say the data was never delivered, because of a lawsuit brought by Texas voting rights advocates after the request was made.

At issue is whether the Trump administration, as some feared, was trying to establish a pretext for cracking down on voters of certain ethnicities. The vice chairman of the commission, Kansas Secretary of State Kris W. Kobach, said “at no time did the commission request any state to flag surnames by ethnicity or race. It’s a complete surprise to me.”

Jessica Huseman is national politics reporter for ProPublica, the independent non-profit investigative journalism team. She’s also a native Texan. Huseman says Texas has been required by the federal government to keep data about voters with Hispanic surnames since 1983.

“That’s because Texas is required under federal law to send bilingual voting materials out, and so that’s how they identify the people who should get those materials,” Huseman says.

Voter rolls in general, Huseman points out, are public information that anyone can obtain. Personal information, including Social Security number, military status and party affiliation is excluded from the public rolls – but a voter’s name, along with the contents of the Hispanic surname checkbox, are public information. Huseman says the U.S. Census has also maintained Hispanic surname designation information since 1990, so the voter fraud commission could have obtained surname data from that source if it had wished.

Huseman says it’s unclear why the voter fraud commission would want surname data. Commission vice chair Kobach disavowed any intention to collect this data, and couldn’t say why the request had been made.

“I think that the commission has not done itself any favors right now,” Huseman says. “…Since the beginning, this commission has not run like a well-oiled machine.”

She says the commission was also very secretive about its work.

“It’s difficult to believe anything Kris Kobach says about the commission,” she says.

Written by Shelly Brisbin.

Rhonda joined KUT in late 2013 as producer for the station's new daily news program, Texas Standard. Rhonda will forever be known as the answer to the trivia question, “Who was the first full-time hire for The Texas Standard?” She’s an Iowa native who got her start in public radio at WFSU in Tallahassee, while getting her Master's Degree in Library Science at Florida State University. Prior to joining KUT and The Texas Standard, Rhonda was a producer for Wisconsin Public Radio.
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