New documents indicate that a member of President Trump’s recently dissolved voter fraud commission tried to identify Hispanic voters specifically among 50 million voter records. The commission, disbanded earlier this month, was founded last year on the false claim of conspiracy theorists (and the president himself) that more than 3 million illegal immigrants had voted in the 2016 election.
The Washington Post reported Monday that the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity—formerly led by Vice President Mike Pence and Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—had paid the State of Texas some $3,500 for access to roughly 49.6 million voter records from six past general elections.
In the request, the commission asked for voter files organized in a way that indicated which voters had Hispanic surnames, according to newly released documents. The Dallas Morning News reports that those requests were filed by Ron Williams, who was fired by the commission in October after being charged with possession of child pornography.
A Texas official told the Post that Texas has identified voters with Hispanic names since 1983 as a means to identifying voters who may need bilingual election notices. The names are selected from the US Census Bureau’s list of top Hispanic surnames, the official said.
Asked about the decision to include the flags in data delivered to the commission, Kobach insisted that no member of commission was aware of the request. “It’s a complete surprise to me,” he told the Post.
The data was never ultimately never delivered, thanks to a lawsuit brought by Texas voting rights activists and the commission was closed down on January 3rd, because—depending on who you ask—of either the vast number of states determined not to participate or because internal records withheld from Democrats named to the commission were about to released into their hands. (At one point, more than 40 states had declined to participate)
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, a Democrat appointed to the commission, filed a lawsuit in November alleging that Kobach and other Republican members were withholding key details about the commission’s activities from their Democratic colleagues.
The nonpartisan watchdog group American Oversight told Gizmodo two weeks ago that it was “no coincidence that the president dissolved the commission once it became clear it wouldn’t be permitted to operate in the shadows.”
In a letter to the Attorney General last year, Hans von Spakovsky—a member of the commission and employee of the conservative Heritage Foundation—urged Jeff Sessions to help prevent the appointment of any Democrats to the panel.
Correction: Some bad phrasing in a previous version of this article implied Trump’s voter fraud commission sought the records of 50 million voters in Texas. The 50 million records sought spanned six election cycles, meaning a single person who lived in Texas between 2006 and 2016 could have six voter records. For context, there were only 15 million registered voters in the state during the last election. We regret the error.