The recent announcement that the Kansas secretary of state’s office has agreed to suspend the flawed Crosscheck voter registration program until making significant security upgrades is welcome news to those who value election security and the protection of voter registration information.
Championed by former Secretary of State Kris Kobach, researchers determined Crosscheck produced false positives 99 percent of the time, jeopardizing qualified voters ability to cast their vote, and required the exchange of sensitive information through unsecured emails between election officials. An inadvertent breach by Florida election officials in an open record request resulted in 945 Kansas voters having their sensitive data released, prompting a lawsuit by some of the individuals whose information was improperly disclosed.
In a statement required as part of the settlement agreement, the secretary of state's office acknowledged “your personal information was improperly disclosed through the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program. We recognize this led to an error in the use and handling of your information. Our office has adopted policies and procedures to ensure your voter information will be protected in the future.”
It’s an omission Kobach wouldn’t make. His defense of Crosscheck and reluctance to abandon the program resulted in the state’s Attorney General’s office defending Crosscheck in a federal lawsuit, saying the U.S. Supreme Court “has never held that there is a constitutional right to prevent government disclosure of private information.”
A federal judge ruled against the AG’s office, prompting settlement talks between current Secretary of State Scott Schwab and the ACLU that resulted in the recent announcement of an agreement to suspend the program until major enhancements were made to ensure reliability and security.
So now what?
During testimony to the House Elections Committee in February of this year, Deputy Secretary of State Bryan Caskey acknowledged the secretary of state’s office could use $2 million in federal funds untouched by former Secretary Kris Kobach to gain access to an alternative system.
He specifically addressed the Electronic Registration Information Center used by 26 member states across the country. ERIC is a comprehensive system developed by Pew Charitable Trust and IBM that compares voter list data with the Department of Motor Vehicle records, Social Security Administration records, the Postal Service’s national change of address registry and other databases to match voters across state lines.
ERIC member states show a commitment to ensuring the legitimacy of voters as well as the participation of eligible voters in local elections. When the system identifies eligible but unregistered voters, ERIC members contact them with information on the most efficient means to register to vote. They also commit to reaching voters whose registration information is flagged as out of date or incorrect. Data is further compiled around voters who have moved, died or have a duplicate registration.
As Anita Parsa, the retired programmer whose open records request and activism helped bring the program to a halt, said, “Why use Kansas taxpayer dollars — and keep Kansas taxpayers on the hook for any future data security issues — to recreate the security and accuracy that already exists in ERIC?"
Kansas doesn’t need to move forward with trying to improve Crosscheck.
It’s time to invest in ERIC or another similarly reliable program to ensure voters are properly registered and allowed to participate in the democratic process.