Statement on Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity Request for Voter Roll Data

The Society of American Archivists objects to the recent request by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity[1] for copies of every state’s voter roll data. The Trump administration’s overly broad request raises serious concerns about American citizens’ right to individual privacy and about the role of government records in protecting democratic rights.

SAA believes that access to public government records is fundamental to democracy as a means to ensure the transparency and accountability of government, the protection of individuals’ rights, and the assurance of good governance. SAA also believes that privacy is a fundamental right and that governments have an obligation to balance an individual’s right to privacy against a broader public good that may come from use of collected personal data.

SAA is concerned about the broad range of data requested, the burden it places on states to comply, and the potential impact on and risk to citizens’ rights after these data are aggregated. 

Access to voter records is appropriately governed by the laws and regulations of each state, most of which are written explicitly to protect sensitive and personally identifiable information. Many states make portions of voter information publicly available according to their respective state laws, and yet the Presidential Advisory Commission has not attempted to work within the existing frameworks established to gain access to public information.

The full range of information requested by the Commission is not typically aggregated in states’ voter roll data. Therefore, providing wholesale copies of all data requested goes beyond a typical request for government records and assumes that the states can and should bear the burden and cost of aggregating these data solely for the purpose of complying with the request.

Personal data collected by a democratic government must not be used to violate or limit the rights of its citizens. Governments often need to collect information about individuals to operate effectively, but this need must respect an individual’s right to privacy and remain in keeping with democratic ideals. The Presidential Advisory Commission has not adequately informed the public about how it will secure and use the aggregated data so as not to cause harm to individuals or groups of voters. It is not clear that aggregating these data will result in a broader public good.   

The National Association of Secretaries of State, the bipartisan organization representing the 50 chief election officials in each state, has expressed its confidence in the systemic integrity of the election process.[2] The bipartisan U.S. Election Assistance Commission confirmed fair elections in 2016 in its biennial election survey.[3] The Commission’s request inappropriately questions the authenticity of records that each state has certified to be accurate representations of the voting process conducted in compliance with state laws and regulations. The Commission’s actions raise the specter of government surveillance of a process that is intended to respect and ensure the confidentiality of American voters.

To ensure accountability and transparency at the highest levels of our democratic system, SAA encourages the Trump administration to focus on its own records management responsibilities, as highlighted in SAA’s Recommendations on Federal Archives and Records Management Issues Prepared for the Trump Presidential Transition Team.[4]

[4] Recommendations on Federal Archives and Records Management Issues Prepared for the Trump Presidential Transition Team by the Council of State Archivists, the National Association of Government Archives and Records Administrators, the Regional Archival Associations Consortium, and the Society of American Archivists, December 9, 2016.


In Support of this Statement: 

Regional Archival Associations Consortium (RAAC)