From the moment the president announced the creation of a panel to examine voter fraud and elections, voting-rights advocates warned that the real purpose of the commission was to suppress lawful votes. Then a series of reports from around the country over the last two weeks played directly into those fears, as voting officials in several states said citizens had been calling and asking to have their registrations canceled, rather than turned over to the commission as part of a huge request for data. Instances popped from Florida to Washington state and North Carolina to Colorado.
The good news is that so far there don’t actually seem to be that many cases of voters actually canceling, with most of them concentrated in Colorado—though nearly 4,000 people have withdrawn there, enough to swing a close election. Yet even if the scale of the problem is not great, the phenomenon of Americans willingly surrendering one of their most fundamental political rights in order to protect their privacy is a worrying one that touches on the future of voting in the United States as well as on the question of how public records like voter rolls should function in the internet age.
In charging that the commission is aimed at suppressing votes, critics have noted that it was created to answer an illusory problem of illegal voting; its de facto leader, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, has a history of attempting to disenfranchise legitimate voters and wrote in a recently divulged email that he wants to enact stricter registration requirements; and the methods it appears to be considering are both methodologically unsound and risk exposing private data.