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My Turn: Crosscheck program isn’t right for New Hampshire



For the Monitor
Monday, December 11, 2017

Over the past year, there has been much talk in New Hampshire about the Interstate Crosscheck Program (or Crosscheck).

Crosscheck is often described either as a means to root out voter fraud or as a means to disenfranchise eligible voters by wrongly purging them from the voter rolls. But what is Crosscheck really?

Incomplete answer, it’s a program run by the state of Kansas that compares voter information from multiple states with the intention of identifying individuals who are registered in more than one state. A more complete answer is, it’s a flawed system that is prone to false positives and that comes at significant expense and privacy risk. Here’s why:

Crosscheck is not accurate. There are many ways to identify a person. The two most inaccurate data points – meaning the two points most likely to be shared by multiple people – are name and date of birth. And yet those are exactly the two, and the only two, data points that Crosscheck uses. It fails to use middle names or initials, partial Social Security numbers, or suffixes. Not surprisingly, the result is an abundance of false positives.

Crosscheck is expensive. While offered to states free of any up-front charge, the program becomes expensive down the road as states must perform their own due diligence. As noted before, all Crosscheck can identify are names and dates of birth that may correspond to individuals registered in more than one state. But given the well-known potential for false positives, states then have to expend their own resources to compare those names with other data points, or risk purging eligible voters. And given the litany of false positives, the program becomes expensive in running down every produced name.

In New Hampshire for instance, we know the Secretary of State’s Office is spending staff time and resources to confirm whether “matches” from Crosscheck actually reflect unlawful voters.

Crosscheck is easily manipulated for errant purposes. While the program was originally designed as a means of maintaining accurate and up-to-date voter rolls, it is increasingly being used in an attempt to shore up allegations of widespread voter fraud by pointing the finger at voters registered in more than one state.

However, it is not illegal to be registered in more than one state. When people move, they notify their new state in order to acquire a new driver’s license and such, but rarely do they notify their former state that they are moving, and no law requires that they do otherwise. It is illegal to vote in two states during the same election, but merely knowing that a name – even if it is the same person – is registered in two states is not itself indicative of any wrongdoing and is insufficient data to act upon.

Crosscheck encourages the purging of voters. While Crosscheck acknowledges the high rate of false positives, it also sends states instructions on how to purge voters from their list.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas secretary of state, and promoter of Crosscheck, has repeatedly advised that any double registrant be purged from the voter rolls. If states comply with this, thousands of voters risk being disenfranchised, merely because they are lawfully registered in more than one state, or worse because someone with their same first and last names and birth date lives in a different state.

Crosscheck leaves your information vulnerable to hacking. Voter information provided to Crosscheck is stored on an insecure server in Arkansas. Security concerns have grown so much in recent weeks that states, including Idaho and Indiana, are re-evaluating their participation in the program. Even Kansas has acknowledged these security concerns and the need to re-evaluate security protocol.

However, the Kansas election director has expressed uncertainty over whether his state’s taxpayers will support paying to properly upgrade the program.

But there is good news. Crosscheck is not the only system available. Florida, Washington and Oregon left Crosscheck due to concerns over how error-prone it is. They instead adopted ERIC, or Electronic Registration Information Center, an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit program developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and IBM. It addresses two of the primary concerns about Crosscheck by using more data points to compare registrants and being more secure. It does come with an initiation fee of $25,000 for states; however, it also saves resources by producing far more reliable data, thus requiring fewer man hours at the back end in verifying names. Additionally, New Hampshire has over $10 million in HAVA (Help America Vote Act) funds that can be used to fund ERIC, so joining will come with no additional cost to taxpayers.

As we prepare for the 2018 midterm elections, we should care about the state of our voter rolls, but we should care more about protecting the right to vote and the privacy of voter data. Any system that risks purging eligible voters and exposing voter data should come under heavy scrutiny, particularly if there is a viable alternative.

The New Hampshire Legislature should take action this upcoming session and remove our state from Crosscheck.

(Jeanne Hruska is the policy director for ACLU-NH.)