Opinion: Stop funding flawed voter verification

Next month the 2018 Kansas Legislature begins its annual session. It will face a host of major issues, starting with school finance and including constructing a new prison, funding KPERS and addressing the endemic secrecy within state government, comprehensively documented by the Kansas City Star.

Last year our lawmakers demonstrated that they could address numerous issues, even as they passed major tax legislation over a gubernatorial veto. Give this record, the Legislature has an obligation to act decisively on one small, but not minor, issue: Kansas’s deeply flawed Crosscheck voter verification program, which 30 states continue to use.

The Legislature should stop all funding for Crosscheck, which ostensibly addresses the alleged problem of multiple voter registrations in two or more states.

Begun in 2005 at the urging of then-state GOP chair and later Secretary of State Kris Kobach, Crosscheck claims to root out potential voter fraud by comparing registration records across 30 states. There is a separate program, established in 2012, called ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center), funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, which includes 20 states and the District of Columbia.

Although it may seem simple to validate duplications in registrations and possible double voting, in practice myriad problems have arisen as these systems deal with huge data bases from many states, each with their own rules. ERIC’s great advantage lies in its data security and careful culling of false positive registrations.

Crosscheck raises numerous questions; most fundamental is its core assumption that multiple registrations and double voting are commonplace in American electoral politics. Kobach and others continue to complain that this is the case — or may well be — even as study after study debunks the existence of such a problem. Indeed, in his role as co-chair of a national voting commission, Kobach anticipates expanding Crosscheck to all 50 states.

Crosscheck advocates argue that it has discovered as many as 3 million voters who have the same name and birthdate and are registered in two or more states. Such a finding must mean that there is a tremendous potential for fraud, right?

Not really. Solid, sophisticated studies have demonstrated the statistical basis for having 3 million registration duplications. Without going into excruciating detail, consider the fact that in any group of 23 individuals, there is an even chance that two will have the same birthday. Now think of 150 million voters, and all the combinations of apparently identical names with the same birthdates. Probability dictates that many, many of these individuals will have the same names and birthdates.

Add in sloppy record-keeping and administrative errors, and almost all the 3 million duplications can be accounted for. Moreover, large numbers of actual double registrations should lead to numerous prosecutions, especially with an aggressive prosecutor like Kobach. But there have been only a handful. This means that 30 states keep propping up a system that has accomplished little save to further Kobach’s relentless voter suppression agenda, with the states bearing the costs of all the errors. And now, with a national commission, Kobach wants to compound these mistakes.

Kansas, Crosscheck’s originator and prime funder, can proceed in one of two ways. First, it can simply stop paying for Crosscheck and withdraw its participation, which might topple the system completely. Or legislators can choose ERIC, with its superior security, to address double registrations.

Again, this is not the state’s most pressing problem, but Crosscheck wastes our resources and those of 30 other states with no offsetting benefits. In short, a coalition of sensible lawmakers should defund Crosscheck and, if desired, join ERIC, post haste.

— Burdett Loomis is an emeritus professor of political science at the University of Kansas.