Ethics and Democracy

Protecting Voting Rights by Ending Crosscheck


The Trump administration has been pushing a false narrative about illegal voting as cover for disenfranchising voters, but voter suppression tactics are not new. For years, state legislatures have been adding burdensome legal roadblocks to voting (e.g. strict voter ID laws, limiting early voting, purging voter rolls). Let’s be clear — the goal of these laws is to make voting less accessible, even though elected officials have an obligation to facilitate participation in our democracy. These suppression tactics make voting a daunting endeavor, and disproportionately limit the participation of young people, communities of color, and immigrant communities.

The Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program (“Crosscheck” for short) is one major tool used by voter suppression advocates to limit access to voting — not to mention the fact that it poses a serious data privacy risk. It is an anti-voter program designed to disenfranchise marginalized communities and suppress turnout through built-in racial biases. As of 2018, 26 states take part in this blatantly discriminatory program. In this toolkit, we will provide you with the information and tools you need to help your state leave the Crosscheck program.

In this toolkit, you’ll find:

Background about Crosscheck

What is the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program?

The Interstate Crosscheck Program began in December 2005 to allow states to more easily share voter registration information, with the aim of identifying voters who had moved from one state to another and so the states could eliminate duplicate voter registrations. There’s just one (big) problem: nearly every flagged “match” from Crosscheck is a false positive.

Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State and voter suppression enthusiast, expanded the program rapidly from thirteen states in 2010 to a peak of 29 states in 2014. Kobach has been key in implementing harsh voter suppression policies in Kansas such as voter ID laws and proof-of-citizenship requirements. Kobach supports Trump’s ludicrous claim that millions of illegal votes were cast in 2016, and cites "potential duplicate voters" produced out of Crosscheck as evidence. He uses Crosscheck’s high false positive rate to fuel his distorted narrative of widespread voter fraud, and ultimately to kick voters off the rolls.

It’s also important to note that a more secure, more accurate, and non-partisan alternative called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) now exists, yet some states are still part of Crosscheck.

How does Crosscheck work?

Crosscheck's matching algorithm is fundamentally flawed, predominantly producing false positives. The matching algorithm analyzes the combined data from all participating states and identifies any record where there is a record with a matching first name, last name, and date of birth between states. This is the only data used to determine a match, even when other data suggest there is not a match (e.g. a middle name mismatch or a different Social Security number).

Is Crosscheck good at identifying duplicate voters?

No, it’s terrible. In 2017, Crosscheck analyzed 98 million voter registration records from 28 states and returned 7.2 million "potential duplicate registrant" records to member states. A recent study found that less than 5% of flagged “matches” are likely to be valid. On top of the time wasted by election officials processing data that is largely garbage, states have sometimes sent the wrong data, causing a complete do-over of the Crosscheck analysis.

Unlike the newer Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), Crosscheck uses no external data sources to identify potential duplicate registrants. Crosscheck relies on simplistic matches of voters’ names and birth dates. ERIC uses the US Postal Service National Change of Address program, the Social Security Administration Death Master File, DMV data, and other information sources to reduce the number of matches to a more realistic level.

The nature of the algorithm disproportionately impacts people of color, putting them at risk of accidental purge from the voting rolls. Since Crosscheck uses a simplistic name-matching scheme, voters with common surnames such as Gutierrez, Kim, Martinez, and Washington will appear on Crosscheck result lists with greater frequency than would otherwise be expected.

Is Crosscheck data secure?

Nope. If everything above wasn’t bad enough, the Crosscheck system is fundamentally not secure — leaving 100 million registered voters’ information open to hackers and potential identity theft. We know two groups of people would love to have voter information that includes date of birth and Social Security number: identity thieves and those who would use voter data for nefarious purposes. The system’s security has already proven to be woefully insufficient, leaving Crosscheck’s centralized store of 100 million voters’ data open as a gold mine for hackers.

On January 19, 2018, Florida and Kansas acknowledged that an unencrypted spreadsheet containing nearly 1,000 Kansans’ voter information (including the last four digits of their Social Security number) was sent via email without adequate protections — and then accidentally released via a public records request. While investigating the insecurities in the Crosscheck system, Indivisible Chicago obtained similar highly personal information about voters via public records requests to other states including Washington, Idaho, Florida, and Mississippi.

Don’t we need Crosscheck to maintain voter rolls and find double voters?

No. As we mentioned before, the matches generated by Crosscheck are extremely unreliable, so it isn’t a useful tool for maintaining accurate voter rolls. A better approach is to ensure voter rolls are kept current on a timely basis to prevent double registration in the first place. For example, Illinois uses ERIC to refresh voter data every 60 days, reducing the opportunity for people to be registered in more than one place at a time.

Illinois: A Case Study

Since July 2017, Indivisible Chicago has been working to get Illinois to leave the Crosscheck program. Illinois voluntarily joined the program in 2011, by the decision of the Illinois State Board of Elections. Since then, over 8 million Illinois voter records have been sent to the program every January.

In a huge victory and a first for Indivisibles, Indivisible Chicago worked with state legislators to introduce legislation (SB 2273) to force the state to leave Crosscheck. SB 2273 has passed both houses of the Illinois state legislature. Most recently, Indivisible Chicago's advocacy and the discovery of Crosscheck's massive security failures were detailed by ProPublica, Mother Jones, ThinkProgress, and the Chicago Sun-Times.

 What does SB 2273 do?

Current law requires Illinois to participate in ERIC to exchange voter data with other states to assist with voter roll maintenance. SB 2273 simply modifies this language to say Illinois will exclusively share data with the ERIC program, or enter into independent data sharing agreements with neighboring states — effectively withdrawing Illinois from the Crosscheck program.

What is the status of SB 2273?

Due to the amazing advocacy of Indivisible Chicago, SB 2273 passed both houses of the Illinois state legislature and is now on Governor Rauner’s desk. Unfortunately, Governor Rauner has said that he finds the prospect of leaving Crosscheck to be “troubling.”

How can you help get SB 2273 passed?

If you live in Illinois, you should call the Governor to let him know that you support SB 2273, and expect him to sign the bill.

Springfield Phone: (217) 782-0244
Chicago Phone: (312) 814-2121

Call Script: Hello, my name is <YOUR NAME> and I live in <YOUR TOWN>. I’m calling in strong support of SB 2273, which would remove Illinois from the Crosscheck program. Crosscheck’s data is inaccurate and insecurely stored. Illinois is already part of the ERIC program to avoid duplicate voter registrations, so there is no reason that we should be part of a fundamentally flawed program like Crosscheck. Please let Governor Rauner know that I expect him to sign SB 2273.

Getting Your State To Leave Crosscheck

The best way for us to dismantle the voter suppression tool that is the Crosscheck program is to work on getting all participating states to leave it.  There are 25 other states that are still a part of Crosscheck — Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia.

Who has power over your state’s participation in Crosscheck?

In some states, the Secretary of State can unilaterally decide to pull the state out of Crosscheck. In other states, the Board of Elections may make that decision. And in others still, it may be necessary to pass legislation to leave Crosscheck.


Secretary of State: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Ohio, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia

Board of Elections: North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Virginia

Legislation Required: Illinois (because Board of Elections won’t act), Kansas, and New Hampshire

How do you get your state out of Crosscheck?

Exercising your constituent power is the best way to get your state to leave Crosscheck! Some enrolled states’ Board of Elections Officials have expressed security concerns about using Crosscheck. South Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, West Virginia, North Carolina, Nevada, Louisiana, and Colorado have stopped submitting data, which is a great first step. In order to really #EndCrosscheck, states need to end their enrollment in the program.

If your state’s decision maker is the Secretary of State or Board of Elections, here is what you can do:

  1. Set up a meeting with your Secretary of State or Board of Elections
  2. Coordinate a calling campaign
  3. Write an op-ed about why your state should leave the Crosscheck program

Setting up a meeting with your Secretary of State or Board of Elections

  1. Find contact information for your Secretary of State or Board of Elections
  2. Call and try to set up a meeting at your SOS or BOE’s office. When you call, say that you and your Indivisible group would like to talk about your state’s participation in the Crosscheck program. The goal is to get a sit-down conversation with the decision makers in your state.
  3. Before the meeting: Make an agenda before you go to your meeting.
    • Be prepared with knowledge about the Crosscheck program. Prepare quick talking points from our resource: Crosscheck does not provide accurate or valuable information that is useful for our state’s elections process.
    • Do some research about the success (or, more accurately, the failure) of the Crosscheck program in your own state.
    • Prepare stories about how Crosscheck will affect you and others in your community.
    • Assign a member of your group to prepare and address each talking point or story. Also assign a timekeeper and a notetaker.
    • Prepare a brief one- or two-page summary memo to leave behind. If this is your first meeting, include notes on who you are, what you do, and why the topics you discussed in the meeting are important to you.
  4. At the meeting: Be persistent and convey your message!
    • Share your talking points. Have a few people address topics, rather than one or two group leaders.
    • Don’t let them dodge the question. If you are not getting responses, be firm but polite in asking follow-ups. Remember: your goal is to talk about Crosscheck and share your concerns.
    • Take notes. Don’t expect your representative or their staff to do this.
    • Leave behind your prepared summary. Your representative will have a record of how prepared you were!
    • Record it or it didn’t happen! Document your meeting with video or pictures. Get a picture of your group at the office. Better yet, get a video of your group before, during, and/or after the meeting. See the media cheat sheet for more details on how to do it and why it’s so important. The bottom line is that your voice will be louder and better heard if you have receipts. Post your takeaways from the meeting on social media.
  5. After the meeting: Follow up!
    • Follow up with your official a week after the meeting and reiterate your points and see if there is any progress.
    • Schedule recurring meetings. Leave a lasting impression, and let everyone you spoke with know you will be returning to follow up.

Coordinate a calling campaign

You, your Indivisible group, and all of your friends can and should flood your Secretary of State or Board of Elections offices with phone calls to let them know that your state should leave the Crosscheck program.

Call script

Caller:  Hello, my name is <YOUR NAME>, and I am a voter in <STATE>. I am calling to ask <SECRETARY OF STATE / BOARD OF ELECTIONS> to remove <STATE> from the Crosscheck program. Crosscheck puts millions of voters‘ sensitive personal information at risk, and is a fundamentally flawed and discriminatory program. Will you commit to removing <YOUR STATE> from Crosscheck?

<IF YES OR CONSIDERING>

Caller: Great, that is really good to hear. Will there be a public announcement of our removal from the Crosscheck program?

<IF NO>

Caller: That is disappointing to hear. States have been leaving Crosscheck since it was revealed to be ineffective and a serious privacy risk for voters. There are alternative programs that do a better job of maintaining voter rolls, that you should consider, like ERIC. I hope you will reconsider; I will call again to see if <SECRETARY OF STATE / BOARD OF ELECTIONS> has changed their mind.

Write an op-ed

Writing an op-ed is a valuable tactic for appealing to your Secretary of State or Board of Elections publicly using the power of the press. Op-eds are powerful tools to change the narrative, when you have a strong focus on the issue and a compelling argument. Before writing yours, do some research on how Crosscheck has affected your state and make sure to reference alternatives to the program, like ERIC.

When you get your op-ed published, you can use the exposure to go back to the decision makers in your state and continue to pressure them. Your facts can keep them on their toes when they claim expertise on why Crosscheck is a useful program.

For other tips on how and why writing your Op-Ed can be the most effective, check here at an additional resource, “How to write an Op-Ed”.

Following in the footsteps of Illinois: introducing legislation to leave Crosscheck

If your state needs to pass new legislation in order to get out of Crosscheck, you will need to lobby your state legislators to introduce legislation for next year’s session. Even in states where legislation is not required, a bill can still serve to pressure the decision makers (Secretary of State / Board of Elections) to withdraw. Indivisible Chicago was able to work with state Senators who supported ending Crosscheck to get their bill introduced in Illinois. Your advocacy can be just as valuable and impactful in your own state.

  1. Follow the same steps outlined above in setting up a meeting — but instead, set up a meeting with your state legislators! Bring a copy of Illinois SB 2273 to potentially use as a model for a similar bill in your state.
  2. Reach out to other voting rights organizations (like Common Cause or the ACLU) to form partnerships and work together as a coalition.
  3. Work with other Indivisible groups and partners in your state to coordinate visits to legislators until you find a state legislator that is willing to be the author of the bill.
  4. Once you find an author, schedule regular meetings with their office to help draft language before the bill is introduced and stay up to date as the bill moves through the process.
  5. Work with your coalition to schedule lobby visits to the legislators on the appropriate committee once the bill has been introduced to convince them to vote in favor of your bill.
  6. Reach out to press to write a story about your legislation, and make sure to continuously uplift your work on social media.
  7. In advance of committee or floor votes, work with constituents across your state to coordinate phone call campaigns to voting legislators.

Find your legislators with these additional resources:

Conclusion

The Crosscheck program is a fundamentally flawed program that only functions to disenfranchise communities that are already marginalized in our society. It is our responsibility as citizens to help to protect the democratic process in this country, and getting states to leave Crosscheck is a critical part of that. Through your persistent and strategic advocacy, you can follow the lead of Indivisible Chicago and encourage your state to leave Crosscheck!

Additional Resources:

http://bit.ly/Crosscheck1 - “Even a Novice Hacker Could Breach Crosscheck”, Gizmodo 11/9/17

http://bit.ly/Crosscheck2 - Experts Say They Can’t Keep Voter Data Safe, ProPublica, 10/23/17

http://bit.ly/Crosscheck3 - “Private Info for Hundreds of Kansas Voters Exposed”, Kansas City Star, 1/22/18

http://bit.ly/Crosscheck4 - “As Crosscheck Moves to Secure Voter Data, Hacking Fears Grow Among Experts and Politicians”, Gizmodo, 1/24/18

http://bit.ly/Crosscheck5 - “Kris Kobach’s Office Leaks Last 4 Social Security Digits of Nearly Every Kansas Lawmaker and Thousands of State Employees, Including Kris Kobach”, Gizmodo, 1/25/18

http://bit.ly/Crosscheck6 - “Eighth State Quietly Quit Free Anti-Voter-Fraud Program Over Security Concerns and 'Unreliable' Results”, Gizmodo, 1/19/18

https://endcrosscheck.com – Advocacy website with FOIA releases and additional news and data quality analysis