1-on-1: SOS Ruth Johnson on voter information request - WNEM TV 5

1-on-1: SOS Ruth Johnson on voter information request

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Secretaries of State across the nation are holding the line on releasing detailed voter information, including voting history and the last four digits of social security numbers, requested by the Trump administration.

One of those is Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson. 

Johnson said the state would provide publicly available information, but nothing more. She said some of what the administration wants is available from several sources, but that Secretaries of State have the most up-to-date information.

TV5: The information that you cannot provide by law, that speaks for itself. The other information that you could provide, was there any reason to refuse or comply, and to what extent?

Johnson: Under the Freedom of Information Act, a law, we must allow just the bare minimum of information, which is names, addresses and if they voted in an election. Again, not how, we don’t know how. So, that is a law, too. So, we're just following the law. The law says we can't release certain information, which people absolutely would not want that information released. Nobody wants their social security number or driver’s license or their birth date released, and we cannot and will not by law. And we will release the name, address and the voting history, again, not who they voted for, but if they voted. By law.

TV5: And the information you're going to provide, are you the only source of it, or could it just be obtained from any public records?

Johnson: Well, since the law's been around for over 40 years, there's many people who get it. So, they can get it from someone else. It costs less than $25. Often, anybody in the political field, consultants, both parties - many people order these lists. So, they can see who voted, what house to send mail to, what house to go knock on their door. And also, it really was put there for voter integrity shield, so people can have some information, but very limited so that it’s not that personal information that people don’t want out. 

>>Video: SOS Ruth Johnson on voter information request<<

Johnson also responded to a suggestion about the motive behind the request.

TV5: Coming from the Secretaries of State, from all 50 states, is the most efficient way to get this information. You don't think this is a necessarily politically motivated ask.

Johnson: I think if you look at what's happened in America, Obama had a task force on elections, and they said that was one of our biggest problems, that we needed to cross-check. Michigan had the most amount of people that left when we had our Great Recession.

TV5: And what insight could be gained from this information in that cross-check?

Johnson: We do participate in a cross-check called the Kansas Project, and there's about 30 of us. And about 20 other states participate in a cross-check called ERIC through the Pew Center. The Pew Center found one out of eight qualified voter files, uh, one out of eight people on it, had substantial problems with it. So, both administrations knew about it, both were trying to fix it, it is something that needs to be done. It is the foundation of our democracy to have good, qualified voter files. You have to know who can vote and who can't. Because every time someone votes that's not supposed to, that's not eligible, they nullify somebody's vote that is an eligible voter in Michigan.

Johnson said in the past six years, officials have removed 1.1 million people from the rolls, 500,000 of whom were dead, and 100,000 who were registered in multiple states. 

>>Video: SOS Ruth Johnson on voter information request motive<<

Johnson also answered questions about the potential chilling effect of the request. 

TV5: In Colorado, two clerks have already reported a significant increase in voters removing their names from registration because they are worried of that information being released. Are you concerned about a chilling effect on voter registration and voter participation just based on this ask?

Johnson: Of course we never want to in any way hinder someone who is an eligible voter from being registered. I don't have the details on why somebody allegedly took their name off. If it was because they were registered in two states, we have had that happen.

TV5: No what they're saying is because Colorado has agreed to comply in part that that's causing some voters to say if you're giving away any of my information, I’d rather just unregister.

Johnson: I can't speak to what another state is doing.

TV5: But would you be concerned about a chilling effect right here in Michigan?

Johnson: Well of course we don't want to have a negative impact on that, that's why I am here today. We are not giving out any other information other than what we have for 40 years. It's very basic it is not a social security number, it is not a driver’s license number, it is not a birth date. We are very careful about that and it is all done by law. We must supply some and we are not going beyond what we must supply by law and people are protected.

Johnson also rated the integrity of Michigan's voting system. 

TV5: On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate the integrity of our voting process, relative to tampering, 10 being the safest?

Johnson: Well in Michigan, I don't think you will get any better because of the machines that we have. They have…

TV5: It's a ten?

Johnson: Um as far as I know, I would give it a 10. At this point we are getting new machines, and they are being put in right now, and they are the best for security and integrity they are not run over the lines so people can get into it. Tampering would be very difficult, if not plain impossible. And one reason is we use paper ballots. So many places don't anymore. And I’m an environmentalist, but here's a time to cut down some trees and plant some new ones. 

>>Video: SOS Ruth Johnson on effect of voter information request<<

With questions surrounding President Donald Trump's relationship with Russia and whether Russia meddled in the 2016 Presidential Election, Johnson also spoke about possible hacking in Michigan and just how secure our voting system is. 

TV5: Is there any step in our balloting process that's vulnerable to outside attack? Tampering, hacking, anything?

Johnson: In February, I sent a five-point plan to Vice President Pence. He was put in charge of election integrity and in that plan there are a couple things I mentioned that we need to do that I think would help and one is we can never have a voting machine that is hooked up to the internet that people can get in and tamper with. We do have those in this country. Not in Michigan. Again, these are other states. And they are scattered across, they are call DRES. The other thing is we need to quantify and qualify where we really do have problems across the country. And occasionally we do, and we prosecute people to the fullest. And we have had to have an election redone in Michigan because of fraud. So, you need to make sure you know where the problems are so you can stop ‘em. We need to make sure there is never voter intimidation. We need to quantify and qualify every time there is something that is done that somehow affects our elections in a way it shouldn't. And so, we don't have that in this nation so how do we know what laws we need to make if we don't keep track?

TV5: And if there was massive voter fraud anywhere, you can say it didn't happen in the state of Michigan?

Johnson: I can tell you Michigan had good clean elections because our clerks were named some of the best in the nation for conducting elections. 

>>Video: SOS Ruth Johnson about possible hacking in Michigan<<

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