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Urged by electorate, Murray bucks Trump commission

Hundreds of citizens called and emailed Wyoming Secretary of State Ed Murray urging him to deny a Trump commission request for state voter data, Murray said.

In deciding not to provide voter data, Murray, a Republican, put Wyoming in line with at least 15 other states who have flat-out refused the commission’s request. Many other states — at least 29, according to news accounts — declined parts of the request but agreed to provide publicly available data.

Murray

The Commission on Election Integrity had requested full names, dates of birth, party affiliation, addresses, voting history, information on felony convictions and the last four digits of social security numbers, amongst other data. Wyoming won’t be providing any of it.

In declining the request Murray, who has expressed his interest in running for Governor to the Casper Star Tribune, publicly bucked a commission created by a president who enjoyed strong electoral support in Wyoming. Trump formed the commission to investigate the possibility of voter fraud, which he has claimed occurred during the 2016 elections.

Still, Murray told WyoFile he is confident he had the support of the state’s citizenry in making his decision. The hundreds of calls included one from a county election clerk, who said people were asking to have their names removed from the election database, Murray said. “I’m getting so many thank you’s that I truly feel peaceful and very confident that I’m on the right side of this issue,” he said.

Conservatives were split on the issue, said Rep. Tyler Lindholm (R, HD-1, Sundance) but for some Wyoming’s traditional concerns about privacy and federal overreach outweighed support for Trump. He voted for Trump himself, he said, but when it came to this request, Wyoming law was clear that voter information shouldn’t be handed over to the federal government.

Lindholm posted on Twitter to support Murray’s decision. “Privacy matters no matter who may be attempting to violate it. Bravo Secretary Ed Murray!” he wrote. He told WyoFile that some people were upset with the expression of support.

“I’d say a lot of conservatives just want to support the president absolutely,” Lindholm said. “Absolutely we need to support the president, but you cannot violate Wyoming law.”

Lindholm sits on the House Corporations, Elections & Political Subdivisions Committee, which deals with election issues. Along with committee chairman Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R, HD-43, Cheyenne), he had written Murray urging him to decline the request. The two said they were confident in Wyoming’s election integrity, and believed if there was need for an investigation it should be conducted by the state.

Elections are “a completely state-based process, and the feds really have no business meddling in it,” Zwonitzer said.

State statute says voter registry lists can be provided — for a fee — to political candidates and their campaigns, political parties, elected officials and political action committees. Also included are individuals supporting or opposing ballot issues or candidates and any organization which promotes voter participation.

“Nowhere in there does it say an appointed commission of the President,” Lindholm said. “No one on that commission was elected by the people of Wyoming.”

Murray will support commission, without data

Providing data isn’t the only way to help the election commission, Murray said. The commission’s letter to the secretaries of state also asked seven general questions about elections. For example, there were questions like “What laws, policies, or other issues hinder your ability to ensure the integrity of elections you administer?” according to a copy of the letter sent to Alabama’s Secretary of State and published by National Public Radio.  

Murray said he will respond to those questions, and agrees with the stated intent of the commission. The commission is charged with identifying practices “that enhance or undermine the American people’s confidence in the integrity of federal elections processes,” according to the letter.

“That sounds real good to me,” Murray said, “let’s do that.”

“I just have a hard time understanding the correlations between Wyoming’s voter role information and how that would shed light on the practices” that affect American’s confidence in federal elections, he said. Murray and the lawmakers interviewed all said they were confident Wyoming’s elections are well-run and free of fraud.

Not even in Trump country

Other traditionally conservative states were among those that refused to provide data to Trump’s commission. However, Wyoming voters came out particularly strongly for Trump during the election — he won more than 67 percent of the vote, his second largest margin of victory behind only West Virginia.

Trump has claimed that millions of people voted illegally during the election, in which he lost the nationwide popular vote. He formed the Commission on Election Integrity to search for voter fraud and ensure “confidence in the integrity of the voting process.”

The President’s claims of widespread voter fraud have been presented without evidence, and most state election officials have rebuked the idea that large numbers of people voted illegally. Opponents of the commission’s request have called it an attempt to find either an excuse for Trump’s popular vote loss or create grounds for voter suppression.

Trump criticized states that refused to turn over the data. “What are they trying to hide?” he asked on Twitter.

The Republican Party’s new chairman in Wyoming, Ryan Mulholland, was quick to downplay Murray’s decision as in opposition to the President.

“Nobody should take what the Secretary of State did as opposed to Donald Trump or the presidency or anything like that,” Mulholland said. “It had everything to do with personal privacy right and nothing to do with who was making the request.”

At least some of the thank-you calls to Murray, and the calls and emails requesting the Secretary decline the commission’s request, came from progressive activists groups around the state, said Heather Springer, an organizer with Indivisible Cheyenne. Indivisible groups have sprouted up around the country since the November election. Their goal is to oppose President Trump’s agenda, often through pressure on elected officials.

Today, there are Indivisible groups — or derivatives with similar agendas and names like Real Resistance Wyoming — in at least Casper, Wheatland, Laramie, Lander, Jackson, Greybull and Star Valley, Springer said.

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Many of those groups posted on social media asking members to contact Murray’s office, Springer said. Indivisible members have also talked about the value of calling an elected official to thank him or her if a decision goes the way group members lobby for, she said.

Regardless of how many phone calls came from organized opponents of Trump, it’s clear the commission’s request rubbed many Wyoming politicians the wrong way. Springer said she believes Indivisible groups fell on the side of majority in the state this time. “There is a concern of growing government and government overreaching and I think this request … at the state level was really just that,” she said.

The state’s top Republican official echoed that sentiment. “More than [in] a lot of states … people in Wyoming appreciate their privacy,” Mulholland said.

In that way, the commission’s request, and Wyoming’s refusal, could be an early example of where the President’s agenda might hit opposition in a state largely in his corner but long distrustful of the federal government.

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Andrew Graham is reporting for WyoFile from Laramie. He covers state government, energy and the economy. Reach him at 443-848-8756 or at [email protected], follow him @AndrewGraham88

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One Response to Urged by electorate, Murray bucks Trump commission

  1. Vicki Lindner July 11, 2017 at 8:29 am #

    Some have theorized that the Trump Administration wants to collect voter data ,not to investigate voter fraud, of which there is no evidence, but to create algorithms that will be able to target individual voters, based on the data they have received, via the internet ,in the next elections. In other words they will design political advertisements and attacks that may be false based on who they think you are, using the data.. This was done in 2016 based on available histories, of gender, purchases on the internet, and other information. It was hugely effective.. I am glad there is one Trump initiative, besides the proposed health care law, of which only 17% of people nationwide approve, that liberals and conservatives agree on.

    Denver, Colorado

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