States raise security concerns about Crosscheck voter database during call with Kobach’s office

Ruth Meier, from Silver Lake, Kan, votes at the Prairie Home Cemetery building, Tuesday, Nov. 4, 2014, in Topeka, Kan. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

? Officials from Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s office conducted a conference call Thursday with election officials from several other states to discuss concerns about the Crosscheck program, a multistate database of voter registration information that Kansas manages and that some critics have said is not secure.

Bryan Caskey, director of elections in the secretary of state’s office, confirmed Thursday that the conference call took place, but he said the issue of security concerns only came up “at a very high level.”

“I would describe it as more of a kickoff conference call that we do at the start of every election year,” Caskey said.

The Crosscheck database was originally launched in the early 2000s when Ron Thornburgh served as secretary of state.

At that time, it was a joint project that Kansas managed, with Missouri, Iowa and Nebraska taking part, to share voter registration rolls in order to identify voters who move across a state line and re-register in their new home but do not delete their registration in their former home — something known as dual registration.

But the program has been greatly expanded to include more than half the states under Kobach, who is also vice chair of President Donald Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity.

In fact, Kobach touted the program during the commission’s inaugural meeting in July, and the commission itself has asked all 50 states to submit their voter registration data into Crosscheck, including the last four digits of each voter’s Social Security number.

But a number of states have denied that request, and a recent report by the investigative journalism project Pro Publica found the system lacks adequate security and could easily be hacked.

One of the states that denied the commission’s request was Illinois, which has about 8 million registered voters.

Elections in Illinois are supervised by an eight-member bipartisan State Board of Elections, not a secretary of state.

“Illinois did not (comply with the commission’s request),” Ken Menzel, general counsel for the board, said during a phone interview Thursday. “Our voter rolls are generally not publicly available. They’re available to political committees and some governmental entities for governmental purposes, and nobody gets certain sensitive data that’s in those files. Even the committees that are able to access some of the data don’t get all of it.”

Menzel said the Illinois board became even more concerned when the Pro Publica story was published in October, exposing potential security weaknesses, and he was eager to hear what Kobach’s office planned to do about it.

“We haven’t heard what it is they’re thinking of doing yet,” he said during the interview that took place before the conference call. “That’s part of what the call coming up is about. That’s a concern we have here with reports about alleged substandard cyber-security with parts of the system, emailing passwords and other things. We’re going to give a listen to what Kansas is proposing to up the security of the system.”

Caskey, however, said his office hasn’t yet developed a specific plan to address the security concerns.

“We’re still evaluating a couple of different options,” he said.