Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program
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Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck (commonly referred to as IVRC or Crosscheck) is database software system designed to compare voter records from other states and identify voters registered in two or more states. Crosscheck was developed in 2005 by Kansas and the Secretary of State of Kansas Ron Thornburgh, which was in conjunction with Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska to compare voter registration data and identify any Americans who may have voted twice in recent elections. Crosscheck has been strongly criticized by critics such as Greg Palast, Indiana State Conference of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, and the League of Women Voters of Indiana, for racially motivated voter caging of non-white registered voters in the United States in NAACP and the League of Women Voters.
Origins, Stated Purpose, and Expansion
The Interstate Crosscheck Program was initiated in December 2005 at the Midwest Election Officials Conference (MEOC) by the office of the Kansas Secretary of State in coordination with Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. The program combined each state's voter rolls into a database and sought to identify potential duplicate registrations by comparing first name, last name, and full date of birth. In 2006, the first crosscheck was conducted using voter registration records from Kansas, Iowa, Missouri, and Nebraska.
The program is administered by the office of the Kansas Secretary of State as a free service to all member states.
Under Secretary Kris Kobach, the program expanded rapidly from thirteen states in 2010 to a peak of 29 states in 2014. In 2017, Crosscheck analyzed 98 million voter registration records from 28 states and returned 7.2 million "potential duplicate registrant" records to member states.
Crosscheck relies on only two points of data for matching: name and date of birth. Matching based on first name, last name, and date of birth "fails for practically all common American names" according to ID Analytics analysis of a database of over 300 million unique records.
Crosscheck's use of loose matching standards leads to a high rate false positives: pairs of voter registration records lacking a match on SSN4 but who are identified as "potential duplicate registrants" by Crosscheck. Two voter registrations are considered potential duplicates if they match on first name, last name, and full date of birth even if the last four digits of the social security number (SSN4) of the two records do not match, or when one or both SSN4 are missing.
Although false positives create a myriad of issues, the Kansas Secretary of State's office does not publicly release the percentage of their widely publicized "potential duplicate registrants" which are false positives. Independent researchers point to public data from Virginia's 2013 Annual Report on List Maintenance which documents a 75% false positive rate.
For voters and member states, misidentification can be costly. Each voter misidentified faces incremental privacy risk when their personally identifying information is sent to at least one state beyond his or her state of residence, and risks being inactivated or removed from voter rolls. In Ada County, Idaho, election officials relied on Crosscheck's list of "potential duplicate registrants" to mistakenly remove 765 voters. None were duplicate registrants.
States must invest in extensive processing to vet each Crosscheck record in an attempt to avoid an inappropriate deletion of eligible voters as occurred in Ada County. No state has publicly documented the administrative cost involved in this process but Virginia's 2015 Annual List Maintenance Report states "the Crosscheck program does not have a direct fee associated with it, however, the initial data received from Crosscheck requires significant agency handling to determine what data is usable and what data is not usable. Crosscheck data is prone to false positives since the initial matching is only conducted using first name, last name, and date of birth. The need to greatly refine and analyze Crosscheck data has required significant ELECT staff resources that are not accounted for when proponents claim the program is "free." "
To date, eight states (Alaska, Florida, Kentucky, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Pennsylvania, and Washington) have withdrawn from the free program, and three (New Hampshire, Illinois, and Kansas) are considering legislation to force the state to withdraw from Crosscheck membership.
The loose matching standards used to identify "potential duplicate registrants" by the Kansas Secretary of State also raise significant concerns about the opportunity for racial bias in list maintenance. According to "Health of State Democracies", "50 percent of Communities of Color share a common surname, while only 30 percent of white people do," so that in the program's flagged lists, "white voters are underrepresented by 8 percent, African Americans are overrepresented by 45 percent; Hispanic voters are overrepresented by 24 percent; and Asian voters are overrepresented by 31 percent".
After examining "potential duplicate registrant" lists from some of the participating states, investigative reporter Greg Palast claimed the Crosscheck system "disproportionately threatens solid Democratic constituencies: young, black, Hispanic and Asian-American voters" with the intention of securing Republican victories. Palast concluded this was achieved by eliminating discrete individuals based on nothing more than similarity of name, a method with a "built-in racial bias" that especially eliminated voters from targeted minorities with a more limited pool of given names, for example, Hispanic voters named Jose Garcia.
Presence on the "potential duplicate registrant" list does not mean a voter was removed from the rolls.
The decentralized and private nature of voting records makes a "purge" based on race, name, or party affiliation difficult to detect. Luckily, this same decentralization would make widespread "purges" difficult to coordinate as action is taken on Crosscheck's results in local jurisdictions (typically at county level). A widespread effort to purge would require dozens or hundreds of local election officials to risk felony convictions.
Data Security and Data Handling Lapses
Articles in ProPublica and Gizmodo, relying on information provided by activists in Illinois and Kansas, revealed in fall 2017 that the Kansas-managed database holding nearly 100 million records of private voter data were protected by security protocols so flawed they could be "hacked by a novice".
Double Voting as a Rationale for Crosscheck
Interstate Crosscheck is part of a larger, ongoing controversy over whether or not such voter registration programs are a valid means of protecting against fraud. Double voting, after it occurs, is the only type of fraud Crosscheck can detect. Crosscheck does not prevent double voting and does not detect any other type of individual voter fraud.
Despite over seven million "potential double registrants" being "flagged" by the Crosscheck program in 2014, less than four people were charged with voting more than once, and not a single flagging led to a conviction, casting doubt on the system's usefulness.
- Crosscheck Membership by State
- What is Crosscheck
- Civil Rights Groups Challenge Indiana’s Use of Crosscheck: Lawsuit Cites Palast’s Work On Kobach’s Racist Voter Purging Program
- Thornburgh signs four-state agreement
- Interstate Crosscheck Program Grows
- "The Trouble with Names/Dates of Birth Combinations as Identifiers" (PDF).
- "Crosscheck Participation Guide" (PDF).
- Powell, Jacqulyn. "Ada County wrongly strips more than 750 voter registrations". KBOI. Retrieved 2018-02-01.
- "Virginia Annual List Maintenance Report" (PDF).
- Participation in the Interstate Crosscheck System, Center for American Progress Action Fund
- The GOP's Stealth War Against Voters, Rolling Stone, 24 August 2016
- "The Voter Fraud Commission Wants Your Data — But Experts Say They Can't Keep It Safe — ProPublica". ProPublica. Jessica Huseman,Derek Willis. 2017-10-23. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
- Cameron, Dell. "Even a Novice Hacker Could Breach the Network Hosting Kris Kobach's Bogus Voter Fraud Program". Gizmodo. Retrieved 2018-02-04.
- Controversial anti-voter fraud program risks disenfranchising voters through racial bias, report finds, 2 September 2016