ACLU sues Kobach over interstate Crosscheck voter database
Story updated: 5:48 p.m., June 19, 2018
KANSAS CITY, Kan. — The American Civil Liberties Union has filed another lawsuit against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, this time over a computer database used to purge the voter registrations of people suspected of having moved across state lines.
The class action lawsuit alleges that Kobach’s office has violated the privacy rights of individual voters by sharing sensitive information included in their voter registration information through unsecured emails with Florida election officials who later released the information publicly in response to open records requests.
The plaintiffs are seeking a court order to halt Kansas’ participation in the system until adequate security measures are put in place.
photo by: Peter Hancock
The suit was filed in federal district court one day after a federal judge in the same courthouse struck down Kobach’s signature legislative accomplishment in Kansas, a law requiring new voters to show proof of U.S. citizenship to register.
The Crosscheck program was actually begun in 2005 by one of Kobach’s predecessors, former Republican Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, as a cooperative effort by election officials in Kansas, Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. But it was greatly expanded under Kobach’s administration to include many more states. The program is managed entirely by the state of Kansas.
It is intended to identify so-called “dual registrants,” people who have moved across state lines and registered to vote in their new state without canceling their voter registration in their old state. The system uses a number of points of comparison, including voters’ middle initials, dates of birth, signatures, and the last four digits of their Social Security numbers.
But it came under widespread public criticism in recent months after ProPublica, a nonprofit investigative journalism site, published a report in October showing the system is plagued with security issues and that it produces “false positive” matches at an alarmingly high rate.
The ACLU also cites an academic study showing that matches identified by the Crosscheck system are inaccurate more than 99 percent of the time.
The Kansas lawsuit specifically names three individuals whose information was shared with Florida election officials in 2013. Florida officials later made the information public in 2017 when the state of Florida released the information in response to an open records request, the suit alleges. Those plaintiffs include Johnson County resident Scott Moore; and Shawnee County residents James Long and Nancy Perry.
All three of the plaintiffs share common names and dates of birth with voters in Florida, but none has ever registered to vote in that state.
Crosscheck also has come under challenge in several states in recent months, most recently in Indiana, where a federal judge earlier this month blocked that state from implementing a new law requiring officials to purge voters from the registration rolls if their names appeared on the Crosscheck database.
Kobach touted the program nationally when he served as vice chairman of President Donald Trump’s short-lived Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. That commission attempted to bring all 50 states into the program by demanding that they share their voter registration databases, but several states refused.
Kobach issued a statement in response to the lawsuit Tuesday saying he will fight the ACLU, “every step of the way.”
“This lawsuit is completely baseless,” he said in the statement. “There is no statute that is violated when states cooperate with each other to keep our voter rolls clean. The lawsuit also ignored the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court last week that approved Ohio’s efforts to keep its voter rolls clean,” Kobach said. “The people of Kansas will win this lawsuit.”
ACLU attorneys, however, said the Ohio case that Kobach referred to concerned an entirely different process of purging voter rolls.
The latest lawsuit was filed one day after a federal judge in the same courthouse struck down a law that Kobach had championed, requiring all new voters to show documentary proof of U.S. citizenship in order to register. Kobach said late Monday that he intends to appeal that decision to the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver.