Advertisement

Kris Kobach’s voter database might suffer the same fate as his signature voting law

Both a lawsuit and candidates for Kobach's office seek to end his Crosscheck system.

American politician Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as he speaks during a fundraiser for his gubernatorial campaign at an unidentified senior citizens center, Emporia, Kansas, October 28, 2017. (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)
American politician Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach as he speaks during a fundraiser for his gubernatorial campaign at an unidentified senior citizens center, Emporia, Kansas, October 28, 2017. (Photo by Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images)

KANSAS CITY, KANSAS — The day after a federal judge rejected Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s documentary proof of citizenship law in June, Scott Moore stood on the steps of the same federal court where Kobach had just been defeated and announced a new federal lawsuit against the elections chief.

Moore, a Mission Hills, Kansas resident, had recently learned that his personal information had been exposed when Kansas sent its voter file to another state  participating in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, commonly known as Crosscheck.

Kobach became the lead administrator of the database software that compares voter records across the country when he became secretary of state in 2011. Until recently, roughly two dozen states participated in the program, which research shows is incredibly flawed and produces false positives in more than 99 percent of cases it identifies as double voters. Citizens with foreign-sounding names are far more likely to be flagged, and potentially purged from voter rolls, through the program. 

Last year, Kansas voter Anita Parsa learned that Kansas inadvertently sent voters’ personal data — including partial social security numbers — to Florida through unencrypted emails. Florida then released that information to her through a public records request. She approached Moore and informed him that his personal information had been exposed because he shares the same name and date of birth as a man in Florida.

Advertisement

Moore told ThinkProgress that it was distressing to learn he was on the list of flagged names that were emailed to states participating in Crosscheck.

“It seems farfetched that someone would go intercept that email and try to steal my credit, but it also seems farfetched that Russians would hack into our national elections, and I firmly believe that thats what happened,” he said. “This is no longer conspiracy theory to me and I’m concerned about my identity.”

Scott Moore is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming Kobach recklessly administers the Crosscheck system. CREDIT: Kira Lerner
Scott Moore is the lead plaintiff in a lawsuit claiming Kobach recklessly administers the Crosscheck system. CREDIT: Kira Lerner

Before long, the ACLU enlisted Moore to be the lead plaintiff in a proposed class action suit claiming that Kobach’s “reckless maintenance” of Crosscheck is violating voters’ constitutional right to privacy.

“Kobach has and continues to recklessly expose private voter data by sending sensitive personal information to participant states that cannot guarantee the confidentiality of these records,” the ACLU wrote in its complaint.

Since Kobach began operating Crosscheck in 2011, eight states — Florida, Alaska, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania, and Massachusetts — have left the program because of concerns about security and the reliability of the data.

Advertisement

After the lawsuit, Crosscheck temporarily halted operations because of the concerns. The lawsuit seeks to end Kansas’ role administering the Crosscheck system permanently.

“I’m not out for money here, but I am out for holding Secretary Kobach accountable and I don’t want Crosscheck to continue,” Moore said. “If they want to start from scratch and put a program together that actually works, I’d be happy to look at it, but Crosscheck is an awful idea that just doesn’t work.”

In addition to the security risks, voters like Moore say that Kansas has enough budget issues to deal with, without running a highly flawed and problematic interstate voting database. Crosscheck is free to other states that participate because it’s funded entirely by Kansas taxpayers.

“Our state has no business trying to run a 20 or 30 state effort,” Moore said. “Our budget is challenged enough here in Kansas and I have teenagers in public school — I want roads and schools and police officers. I don’t want us trying to look for false positive voters.”

Kansas’ role leading the program could also come to an end if someone who doesn’t support it wins the race for secretary of state this November. Brian McClendon, a software engineer who has led teams at Google and Uber and is now the only Democrat running for Kobach’s seat, said that unless Crosscheck can be dramatically improved, he doesn’t plan to continue Kansas’ involvement.

“The distribution was happening with way too much personal information,” McClendon told ThinkProgress. “There are 26 states that have uploaded what I presume is close to 50 to 80 million voters. That data is in the possession of the state of Kansas, and if that data were to be leaked or breached than the liability to Kansas is incredible. Kansas should not be taking on that liability without investing a lot to protect it and getting a lot out of it, and it’s not clear that either those things are true now.”

Advertisement

Most of the Republicans running for Kansas Secretary of State, including likely frontrunner Scott Schwab, support continuing Crosscheck.

“It’s very, very secure and it also makes sure people aren’t voting in three or four states because that’s against federal law,” Schwab, now a state representative, told a local reporter. “As secretary of state, you have an obligation to uphold the U.S. Constitution.”

But Parsa questioned what the two dozen participating states will do if Kansas’ next elections chief doesn’t want to continue administering the program.

“What’s their plan?” Parsa asked. “If the secretary of state’s office flips to Dems, are they really just willing to leave it to chance or do they have some plan to switch it to [another state]? I don’t know that they would take this chance.”

She guessed that GOP elections officials might be ready to see an end to the system.

“The only logical thing I can come up with is that I think they know it’s in its death now and they are ready for it to be taken down by activists or shut down, and then they’ll just squawkl and complain,” she said. “They know it’s going to go down, they know it’s shit, but they don’t want to admit it’s shit and shut it down, because that would look bad.”

“The writing’s on the wall,” she added.

The next secretary of state could also determine whether or not to continue appealing the judge’s order in Fish v. Kobach, rejecting Kobach’s documentary proof of citizenship law. Kobach has vowed to take the appeal all the way to the Supreme Court if necessary, but McClendon said that if he wins, he would drop the appeal entirely.

Either way, Kansas voters said they look forward to Kobach vacating the office, a position they say he has used to spread misinformation and as a launching ground for his own political career while ignoring the needs of voters in the state.

“The Fish v. Kobach and Crosscheck incidents both demonstrate very clearly that Secretary Kobach doesn’t rely on facts,” Parsa said. “What he does is design his narrative and then choose which facts he wants to talk about, based on which fit his narrative, and that’s just not a way to run a government.”