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By Quinlan Mitchell
November 10, 2014
Caption : Al Jazeera America published the findings of their six-month long investigation into the Interstate Crosscheck program just last week in an article that warned about the return of Jim Crow. Their investigation found that millions of Americans are at risk of being expunged from the voter rolls in a massive wave of purges.     

Al Jazeera America published the findings of their six-month long investigation into the Interstate Crosscheck program just last week in an article that warned about the return of the Jim Crow era. Their investigation found that millions of Americans are at risk of being expunged from the voter rolls in a massive wave of purges.

Al Jazeera was able to obtain a list of two million names generated through the Interstate Crosscheck program from Georgia, Virginia, and Washington, out of a larger list of nearly seven million. It found that among those who appeared in the Crosscheck database, people of color were significantly overrepresented. It also found that the program’s methods for adding voters to its database was fatally flawed.

The Interstate Crosscheck program is a voluntary-enrollment initiative for states hoping to improve the accuracy of their voter list. Maintaining an accurate and up-to-date list isn’t anything out of the ordinary for state officials. Voters may move out of state, change names, and die, all necessitating some kind of modification in their voting status.

The controversy with the Interstate Crosscheck program lies in its poor algorithm for finding voters, as well as its potential use as a weapon for voter purges.

Al Jazeera found that black and Asian voters were overrepresented in the Crosscheck system by more than 30 percent each, while Hispanics were overrepresented by about 24 percent. For African Americans, that translates into approximately 1 in 7 voters across the 27 participating states appearing in Crosscheck. That is, 1 in 7 African American voters in more than half of U.S. states may be suspected of voter fraud.

While groups concerned about the security of elections may revel in the powers of the Crosscheck program, it turns out that the method used for finding ‘fraudulent’ voters isn’t sound. Officially, the program is said to look for voter roll matches across state databases using name, date of birth, and social security number. But in practice, Al Jazeera found that the matches were selected using much less rigorous criteria—primarily first and last name.

Analyst Mark Swedlund goes into the problem with that methodology in the article.

“It appears that Crosscheck does have inherent bias to over-selecting for potential scrutiny and purging voters from Asian, Hispanic and Black ethnic groups. In fact, the matching methodology, which presumes people in other states with the same name are matches, will always over-select from groups of people with common surnames,” Swedlund told Al Jazeera.

For that very reason, people of color are overrepresented in the Crosscheck database as fraudsters, while whites are underrepresented. But across races, there are about seven million names on the Crosscheck target list that are currently vulnerable to being purged.

Comprehensive Alternatives to Keep Voting Rolls Accurate

Since maintaining accurate voter rolls is a necessity related to elections, eliminating programs like Interstate Crosscheck is not feasible. But other options exist, and have been lauded as more comprehensive in their analytic criteria.

The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), for example, was created in 2012. ERIC helps states maintain accurate voting lists by cross analyzing interstate data. Unlike its competitor, ERIC conducts a more comprehensive matching search to determine invalid voter registrations.

“ERIC uses additional information not included in Crosscheck including Department of Motor Vehicles data, a key difference between the two programs, and the Social Security Deceased Index (SSDI) for matching death records. In the future, ERIC will add additional data sources to its list comparison, including United State Postal Service National Change of Address (NCOA) information and other data,” wrote the Virginia State Board of Elections in a report on voter list maintenance.

ERIC also offers scores to states letting them know about the level of confidence with which a match between duplicate voter registrations is made.

Beyond that, ERIC checks in with states on a periodic basis throughout the year, while Interstate Crosscheck obtains data from states once a year, in January. It also includes a program to notify certain voters—those who have changed residences but have not yet registered in their new state—of their unregistered status.

Given the viable alternatives to programs like Interstate Crosscheck, initiatives such as ERIC may be a safer choice for states hoping to keep their voter lists clean without potentially purging millions of voters who share nothing but a first and last name.

In fact, according to Al Jazeera, Washington Secretary of State Kim Wyman is opting not to use the Crosscheck lists at all, instead focusing on the smaller, more targeted list generated by ERIC.

In raw numbers, that means the difference between wading through Interstate Crosscheck’s list of nearly a quarter of a million matches, and working with the approximately 37,000 names generated through ERIC’s analytics. For Wyman, it appears, the choice was easy.

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