For now, at least, personal data from millions of Texas voters won't be handed over to President Donald Trump's commission on voter fraud. Earlier this week, a Travis County judge issued a restraining order barring the Texas secretary of state from turning over the records, which the Trump administration sought in order to investigate claims made by the president and others that millions of illegal votes were cast for Trump's opponent, Hillary Clinton, during the 2016 presidential election.
State District Judge Tim Sulak barred the release of the information — which includes the full names of all registered voters and their addresses, dates of birth, political affiliation, voting history since 2006 and felony convictions — for about two weeks. The Trump administration's request also calls for the disclosure of the last four digits of each voter's Social Security number and military status, but Texas Secretary of State Rolando Pablos already said he will not turn that data over because it is not part of public records. Pablos' spokesman, Sam Taylor, declined the Observer's request for comment on the ruling Thursday, citing the ongoing lawsuit.
A hearing on whether the release of the data should be delayed further is scheduled Oct. 16.
"If the private information contained in the Texas Computerized Voter Registration List is transmitted without appropriate safeguards, it is likely to become public," Sulak wrote in his order, saying that would lead to discouraged voter participation and decreased privacy.
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Gary Bledsoe, president of the NAACP Texas State Conference, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit to prevent the release of the information, called the restraining order an important step in maintaining Texans' freedom to vote.
“If the wrong people get ahold of private information such as your Social Security number, date of birth, address or voting history, various aspects of our lives and even our freedoms are at risk,” Bledsoe said in a statement.
The Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law is representing the NAACP and its fellow plaintiff, the League of Women Voters of Texas, in the lawsuit. Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Brennan Center's Democracy Program said that Texas leaders would violate the public trust as well as state law if they turned over voter data to the commission.
“Texans trust election officials with some of their most detailed personal information,” Pérez said. “It’s not only the responsibility of the state to honor that by protecting voter privacy and keeping the information secure, but it’s also legally required under state law.”