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Kansas Kills Kris Kobach’s National Voter Purge System

Kobach’s Crosscheck name-matching algorithm “produced false positives more than 99 percent of the time.”

Former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach talks with a local television reporter after giving a gubernatorial concession speech in Topeka, Kansas, on November 6, 2018.

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“It’s Jim Crow all over again,” is how 98-year-old civil rights legend Rev. Joseph Lowery describes “Interstate Crosscheck,” the questionable “purge” operation run by former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach that has cost 1.1 million voters their registrations in 30 states. The victims: mostly voters of color.

Now, thanks to legal action by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Kansas, Mr. Crow may be dead… at least temporarily.

Truthout talked with the ACLU’s chief litigator in Kansas, Lauren Bonds, about the settlement the group reached with Kansas’ secretary of state’s office. Since Kansas compiles and supplies the purge lists for other states (most of them Republican controlled), shutting down the Kansas program shuts down Crosscheck nationwide.

Here’s how Crosscheck works — and how the ACLU has shut it down, at least for now.

“Interstate Crosscheck” purported to be a way to hunt down anyone voting or registering in two states — by “crosschecking” registration rolls from 30 states.

Removing voters registered in two states sounds reasonable, except for this: Less than one in a million of the astonishing 7.2 million voters tagged had, in fact, voted twice.

In 2017, President Trump appointed Kobach to head a federal commission on voter fraud, which Kobach was hoping to use to force all 50 states to adopt Crosscheck. The commission was disbanded when it refused to open its records to the public.

Rolling Stone and Truthout reported that Crosscheck tagged a breathtaking one in six Latinx voters, one in seven Asian Americans and one in nine Black voters in Crosscheck states for removal from the rolls — ultimately scrubbing an estimated 1.1 million registrations before the 2016 election.

But the ACLU did not halt Crosscheck because it is grossly inaccurate and racially biased. Rather, the civil liberties group sued because of the sloppy way Kobach’s office handled voters’ private data. Using unencrypted files and insecure servers led to the public release of more than 1,000 Kansans’ private information, including at least part of voters’ social security numbers.

Kobach’s cavalier mishandling of citizens’ private information violated the Kansas Public Records Act and the 14th Amendment’s right to privacy.

Now, given that Crosscheck has been proven to be a racially biased attack on the right to vote, the ACLU’s collateral attack reminds one of jailing mobster Al Capone for tax evasion. But, it worked. The ACLU’s Bonds says that this “ends Crosscheck as we know it.”

The state agrees not to accept any more voter registration lists nor create scrub lists for other states unless Kansas gets all the other states to agree to elaborate data security procedures, unlikely in the foreseeable future.

While this does not technically prohibit the return of Crosscheck, Bond says that the “underlying theme” of the settlement agreement with current Secretary of State Scott Schwab is that “this won’t be revived for 2020.”

No other state is known to have come forward to take the place of Kansas to operate the system, though Kobach, the “CEO,” could, as a private citizen, continue to create purge lists for states.

That makes Kansas voting rights activist Anita Parsa more than concerned. The founder of #StopCrosscheck says, “Even if Secretary Schwab cleans up Crosscheck’s data security flaws, … the matching issues [remain] equally as bad.”

Kobach, currently running for Kansas’ open U.S. Senate seat, did not respond to our request for comment.

99 Percent “False Positives”

The ACLU noted that, Kobach’s Crosscheck matching algorithm “produced false positives more than 99 percent of the time.”

No wonder. Here is a typical, unedited segment of the computer list of voters supposed to be registered in two states.

Note that not a single middle name matches. James RANDOLPH Johnson of Virginia is supposed to be the same voter as James BIDIE Johnson of Kansas. James HUNTER Johnson of Virginia is supposed to be the same voter as James CODY Johnson of Kansas.

Unedited screenshot from Kansas Crosscheck “double registered voters” match.

What is clearly seen here is that Crosscheck is merely a compendium of common names: Johnson, Jones, Rodriguez, Garcia and Kim. That’s how Crosscheck effectively targets voters of color. According to the census, 85 of the 100 most common names are those most commonly held by people of color.

As database expert Mark Swedlund noted, there are 858,000 Garcia’s in the U.S. If your name is José Garcia, the chances are you will be accused of voting in 27 states.

When confronted by this reporter with the Crosscheck list as shown here, Kobach launched into a series of prevarications, denying the authenticity of the match list (verified by the state of Virginia), and denying that anyone would lose their vote based on this information. In fact, despite Kobach’s denial, Virginia reported the removal of 41,637 voters in a single year based on Kobach’s list.

Given that Kansas won’t be generating new Crosscheck scrub lists, the danger appears to be over. However, Gary Flowers, former national field director for Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, reached in Richmond, Virginia, noted that his state is still purging voters based on Kobach’s old lists. “We’ve still got a problem — despite a new Democratic governor and legislature.” Flowers, now a well-known Virginia radio host, is preparing his own legal actions against the state’s continued use of Crosscheck.

One victim of Crosscheck, Hank Sanders, interviewed in Selma, Alabama, said he was particularly shocked to find his name missing from the voter rolls, because his name was on the ballot — as Senator Sanders, who has represented Selma for two decades.

After he was informed he’d been “purged,” the senator took a walk across the Edmund Pettus Bridge, famed as the scene of the “Bloody Sunday” beatings of the marchers who originally won the passage of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

Sanders, a voting rights attorney, said the secretive use of Crosscheck, despite the passage of the Voting Rights Act, proves that “the right to vote is always going to be under attack.” That’s why, he says, we must literally and figuratively, “march over the [Edmund Pettus Bridge] every chance we get. Because when we march, we go forward. When we stop marching, we go back.”

Former Alabama State Sen. Hank Sanders walks with Marcia Edwards on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
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