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ACLU Adds Data Security Concerns To Lawsuit Challenging Kobach Voter Fraud Commission

Jim McLean
Kansas News Service/File photo
Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is vice chairman of a voter fraud commission that is the subject of a lawsuit filed earlier this year by the American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU recently added concerns about data security to the lawsuit.

A federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union questions the security of a multistate voter registration database championed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

The ACLU this week added concerns about personal privacy and data security to its list of complaints against President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission. The national organization also claims that the commission violated sunshine laws on public meetings and public documents.

Kobach is vice chairman of the commission, which has sought individual-level voter registration records from all 50 states, though some states refused to hand them over.

The ACLU lawsuit cites concerns that the data-gathering effort would become a target for hackers, and by way of example points to indications that Kansas’ multistate Crosscheck voter registration system may not be secure.

Read the updated ACLU v. Donald Trump brief

This fall at least two media outlets — the investigative nonprofit ProPublica and the tech site Gizmodo — uncovered security problems with Crosscheck, ranging from relying on an insecure server to sharing passwords via email. Sensitive information also was exposed through open records requests.

The defendants in the lawsuit have yet to file an answer to the ACLU’s complaints. Kobach’s office didn’t respond to a request Thursday for comment on the lawsuit’s references to Crosscheck.

The ACLU lawsuit, originally filed in July, is similar to a lawsuit filed the same day by the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, among other legal complaints.

Origins in Kansas

Crosscheck, formally known as the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, began in 2005 under Ron Thornburgh, then Kansas secretary of state.

It has drawn renewed interest and scrutiny since Trump formed the voter fraud commission. Kobach sees Crosscheck as a tool for election integrity that allows participating states to compare records in search of double-registered voters. In August, for example, he touted it to the U.S. Department of Justice, calling it “one of the most important systems” Kansas uses to achieve voter roll accuracy.

But Crosscheck has come under fire from critics who say it makes for poor-quality data with negative consequences, creating significant risks that people with the same name and birthdate will be misidentified as people who are double-registered.

The critics have support from research published by a team of academics at four universities.

Read the paper by researchers at Harvard, Yale and other universities

The research team concluded that proposed voter registration purging strategies related to Crosscheck “would eliminate about 300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote.”

More states have concerns

Some states already participating in Crosscheck appear concerned about inadequate security in the wake of the ProPublica and Gizmodo reports.

Last month, the Idaho Statesman reported that Idaho’s top election official may end his state’s participation in Crosscheck over that issue.

The Lawrence Journal-World has reported in recent weeks that Kobach’s office also recently discussed the concerns with officials from participating states in a conference call and that his office is looking into Crosscheck’s security.

At least three states have pulled out of Crosscheck because of data quality concerns, and state participation is embattled in others.

Democrats in Illinois, for example, are renewing efforts to remove their state from Crosscheck after a proposal to do so narrowly failed at the state’s election board. And Indiana’s secretary of state is facing a lawsuit over her use of Crosscheck.

According to a June presentation by Kansas officials to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Crosscheck grew from a four-state, Midwest-focused program upon its creation to about 30 states and 100 million voter records by 2016.

By comparison, a separate multistate effort called the Electronic Registration Information Center has about 14 million records from 20 states and the District of Columbia. That system is governed by a board of directors.

Trump created his voter fraud commission in May and tasked it with ultimately submitting a report to him that in part identifies the “vulnerabilities in voting systems and practices used for Federal elections.” The commission last met in September.


Celia Llopis-Jepsen is a reporter for the Kansas News Service, a collaboration of KMUW, Kansas Public Radio and KCUR covering health, education and politics. You can reach her on Twitter @Celia_LJ

Celia Llopis-Jepsen writes about how the world is transforming around us, from topsoil loss and invasive species to climate change. She aims to explain why these stories matter to Kansas, and to report on the farmers, ranchers, scientists and other engaged people working to make Kansas more resilient. Email me at celia@kcur.org.