Database Voter Suppression Strategy

ACORN ACORN International voting rights
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New Orleans      We all know it’s bad, and then we find out that it’s even worse than we imagined.  Sharing the Voter Purge Project’s recently released report on consistent errors in the voter purge lists in states, red and blue, it is clear that this whole “system” of “cleaning” the lists is broken, state by state, to some degree or another.  But, then reading Jim Rutenberg’s deeply reported story in the New York Times Magazine, “The Attack on Voting,” uncovered whole new layers of inner connections and conspiracies to suppress voters even past what we had imagined.

Rutenberg’s main theme is unpacking the almost completely baseless Republican, Trumpian, and currently governmental efforts to create a narrative around voter fraud without any evidence in order dissuade the electorate from voting and to secure partisan advantage by delegitimizing the coming election for Trump’s benefit.  Rutenberg’s story is certainly not flawless, and there are some bones I would pick with some of his interferences, particularly about ACORN, but nonetheless he connected some dots together on the suppression effort that speak to the malice involved, and the future course that is necessary to protect voter lists.

I stand second to no one in my condemnation of the work of Kris Kobach, former Kansas Secretary of State, and longtime nemesis of immigrant and architect of voter exclusion strategies.  We have applauded the good sense of Kansas voters in rejecting his bid for both governor and more recently Senator from their state, but, sadly, that may still not protect the rest of us enough from some of his strategies and tactics.  His efforts as Vice-President’s wingman on the special commission Trump created at his urging after the 2016 election all blew up when the bipartisan fiction behind the commission disappeared over their attempts to freeze out the Democratic members and use the commission to generate reports that would align with their arguments, regardless of the facts.  This was especially true when they tried to allege massive voter fraud in the New Hampshire election based on drivers’ license identifications that were legally allowed in the state.

Lawsuits against the commission detailed the plans for what Kobach and his team were really trying to do:

The documents showed that there was a much larger project in the works. In several meetings, Kobach, von Spakovsky, Adams, McCormick and the vice president’s office had discussed the creation of a gargantuan database of government-held information to search national voter rolls and find irregularities. Such list matching, as the practice is known, is the means by which states regularly analyze their voting rolls to ensure that they do not contain dead people or people who have moved out of state. But when data matching is done poorly, it can be a prolific source of false claims about supposedly invalid voters and can cause wrongful cancellations of large numbers of legitimately registered citizens. In the wrong hands, there could be no more powerful engine of voter suppression.

Kobach had built out a prototype for such a database as Kansas secretary of state. His Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck system matched first and last names and birthdays of registered voters across nearly 30 states. But it had serious flaws. One study showed that Kobach’s program would cause 300 wrongful terminations for every double registration it might prevent; another study found that nonwhite voters — who are more likely to share the same names than white voters are — were far more likely to be flagged in its data. The entire program was ultimately suspended because of litigation.

Now the commission was planning a sprawling federal version of Kobach’s Crosscheck system. Its Republican members wanted access to government data from the Department of Education, the Internal Revenue Service, the Department of Homeland Security, Citizenship and Immigration Services, public-assistance services and the federal court system, as well as from all 50 states. All of it would feed into what was to be the mother of all voter-fraud reports….

It is hard not to see their intentions as an attack on the very heart of our voting system and a hostile takeover on whatever is left of our democratic pretense.  Data can be manipulated if it is in the wrong hands, which is exactly why the Voter Purge Project has been so committed to policing the pure voter lists.

There’s a right way to do this according to nonpartisan experts:

The premium data it was seeking to use could have helped lead to more accurate voting rolls, with hundreds of data scientists and a long period of study, Charles Stewart III, a political scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology who provides expert analysis for voting rights cases, told me. But with the resources the commission had and the time frame on which it was working, he said, the final product promised to be “a total dumpster fire” of sensational charges based on flawed data matching.

We need to make the aim of any election data system voter protection, not voter suppression, and that would mean a nonpartisan role for the federal government in safeguarding the process and the data, rather than allowing the state-side mischief of Crosscheck, Kobach, and other anti-democratic conspirators.