Nov 14 2:45 PM

Voter purges alter US political map

Kay Hagan Election Night Party in Greensboro, North Carolina. The incumbent Democrat narrowly lost to Republican Thom Tillis.
Zach D Roberts for Al Jazeera America

Interstate Crosscheck is a computerized system meant to identify fraudulent voters. While Crosscheck’s list of nearly 7 million names of “potential” double voters has yet to unearth, as of this writing, a single illegal vote this year, it did help Republican elections officials scrub voters from registries, enough, it appears, to have swung several important Senate and governor’s races in favor of the GOP.

There is good reason to believe that Crosscheck-related voter purges helped propel Republican candidates to slim victories in Senate races in Colorado and North Carolina, as well a tight gubernatorial race in Kansas.

Interstate Crosscheck is a computer system designed to capture the names of voters who have Illegally voted twice in the same election in two different states.  The program is run by Kansas’ Republican Secretary of State Kris Kobach. Kobach’s office compares the complete voting rolls of participating states to tag “potential” double voters, those who have illegally voted twice in the same election in two states. 

These names are then sent back to the state governments to inform an investigation of duplicate names on the voter rolls. While Kobach advertises Crosscheck as matching numerous identifiers, including the Social Security numbers and dates of birth of voters, a six-month investigation by Al Jazeera America revealed that Crosscheck rosters caught nothing more than matching first and last names. And voters remain on the suspect list even when middle names, Social Security numbers and suffixes (Jr., Sr.) don’t match. Yet all these people — the list contains nearly seven million names — are subject to losing their vote.

The program’s method of identifying and purging voters especially threaten the registrations of minority voters who are vulnerable because African-American, Asian-American and Hispanics are 67 percent more likely than white voters to share America’s most common names:  Jackson, Washington, Lee, Rodriguez and so on.

See if your own name is on Crosscheck lists

It is no surprise that Republicans control most of the top election positions in Crosscheck’s 27 participating states. In all, Crosscheck tagged a breathtaking 6,951,484 voters for the possible removal from the voter rolls as “potential” duplicate voters.

Duplicate or double voting is a crime punishable by 2 to 10 years in prison. Yet, despite this supposed vote-fraud crime wave, not one suspect on Crosscheck lists was charged, although prosecutors would have access to any alleged fraudsters’ names and addresses.

The Crosscheck list purges could easily account for Republican victories in at least two Senate races. In North Carolina, the GOP’s Thom Tillis won over incumbent Sen. Kay Hagan by just 48,511 votes. Crosscheck tagged a breathtaking 589,393 North Carolinians as possible illegal double voters (though state elections officials cut that down to roughly 190,000).

In Colorado, Republican Cory Gardner was able to force out incumbent Senator Mark Udall in a race that had poll-watchers guessing all summer. The outcome might have been more predictable if Colorado had made public that 300,842 of the state’s voters were now subject to being purged from the voter rolls. 

The Rocky Mountain State’s elections officials have a history of cleansing voter rolls without public explanation. Before the 2008 election, Colorado’s GOP Sec. of State Donetta Davidson began an unprecedented scrub of the electoral rolls, disenfranchising nearly one in six voters [PDF]

Not everyone on the Crosscheck lists loses their vote. But the purges are, nevertheless, huge. Just one state, Virginia, canceled the registrations of 41,637 voters last year, 13.5 percent of those on the list — and has since announced it will remove many more [PDF].  

A man walks in the parking lot of the Chavis Community Center a voting center in Raleigh, North Carolina.
Zach D Roberts for Al Jazeera America

Other states’ voting officials are less forthcoming about their purges. For example, North Carolina and Ohio refused to release their Crosscheck lists on the grounds that all these voters, more than a million in those two states, are subjects of criminal investigation, which allows them to keep the information confidential.

If other states followed Virginia and scrubbed just 13.5 percent of their Crosscheck lists, that would more than cover the spread in the North Carolina Senate race and significantly contributed to the margins of victory in several other states. Moreover, this could account for the comeback victory of incumbent governor Sam Brownback in Kansas. Kansas originated Crosscheck and its Secretaries of State have been using it to promote the cleansing of voter rolls since 2005

Statistician Nate Silver wrote that there was a nearly universal error in polls leading up to this election. Silver found that, on average, pre-election polls showed Democrats winning four percentage points more of the vote than recorded in the official final tallies in Senate races, and 3.4 percent in the gubernatorial ones. 

But journalist Brad Friedman, who tracks vote suppression techniques state by state, has another explanation. Friedman told Al Jazeera that what Silver calls an error in polling may in fact be a reflection of the votes lost to partisan manipulation of the voting system. Friedman accounts for many of the so-called pre-election polling “errors” by examining the Democratic votes lost to Crosscheck and several other vote suppression tactics such as Photo ID restrictions, missing voter registrations and a shortage of paper ballots.

The purge of those snared in the Crosscheck dragnet has only begun. The process of actually removing names from the voter rolls is slow and could take months, even years.  It will likely have a bigger impact on the 2016 race than seen last week.

The ultimate swing state in the Presidential race remains Ohio, whose Republican secretary of state, John Husted, has embraced Crosscheck. Columbus State University professor Robert Fitrakis, an expert in voting law, tells Al Jazeera that he has spoken to county voting officials who are concerned that that Husted is pushing counties to scrub voter rolls of “duplicates” within 30 days of receiving the names from the Secretary of State. This gives counties little time and no resources to verify if the accused voter has, in fact, voted in a second state.

Husted’s office has refused to reveal the 469,201 names on Ohio’s Crosscheck list.  How many will officials in Ohio ultimately scrub from the voter rolls? The answer may determine who will choose our next president: the voters or Crosscheck.

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