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Mass. Ended Its Participation In Controversial Voter Fraud System In March

This article is more than 1 year old.

Massachusetts in March quietly ended its participation in a controversial program that's designed to detect duplicate voter registrations.

The secretary of state's office confirmed the move to WBUR after we inquired about the state's participation in the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, following conflicting reports from the ACLU and others. A spokesperson says Massachusetts voter data was deleted from Crosscheck's files in March 2017.

The voter fraud detection program is run by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach. It was started by Kansas and three other states in 2005. Crosscheck is designed to detect potential duplicate registrations by comparing voter rolls in participating states. The system identifies voter registrations that have identical first names, last names and dates of birth.

According to Crosscheck data provided to Iowa — one of the participating states — the system does not use Social Security numbers or middle names.

The program has come under fire after several reports, including a Washington Post article, noted that the system finds a high rate of false positives.

"The problem with Crosscheck is that there were a lot of misidentified people — folks who were identified as having voted in other states," says Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the ACLU of Massachusetts. "It sends really troubling messages that this is the type of investment into election laws and voting in this country."

One study found that Crosscheck was wrong more than 99 percent of the time.

In 2017, 28 states participated in Crosscheck, according to Kobach's office. Those states send their voter data to Kansas election officials, where voter rolls are compared with other participating states. Each state is then sent back a list of voters whose names and dates of birth match with a voter in another state.

According to Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin's office, the first time the state used Crosscheck data was in 2015.

A spokesperson for Galvin’s office says Massachusetts began using the Crosscheck data in 2015 “in an attempt to gather as much information as possible for the local election officials to use to maintain their lists.” The move was meant to help officials keep track of the large number of student voters who move in and out of state, and retired voters who live in Florida. Florida ultimately decided not to join the Crosscheck program.

A Powerpoint published by Kansas state Rep. Keith Esau lists Massachusetts as a participating state in 2015 and 2016. Kobach's office confirmed that the last data sent from Massachusetts was in January 2017.

States using Crosscheck data are not obligated to act on it.

A spokesperson for Galvin, a Democrat, says the state did provide lists of potential duplicate registrations generated by the Crosscheck program to local officials. But because the state has very strict requirements for deleting voters, and due to the "significant amount of time and resources required on the part of the local election officials" to confirm actual matches and "the relatively low number of confirmed matches," the state decided to stop using Crosscheck data.

The spokesperson also says no Massachusetts voters were deleted from the state registration roll “solely because they appeared on the Crosscheck lists.”

"The information that they are no longer participating is news to me," says the ACLU's Hall.

A statistical analysis of Crosscheck data conducted by researchers at Stanford University, University of Pennsylvania, Harvard University and Microsoft Research found that if states purged voter rolls based on the program's results, the risk of suppressing legal voters would be high. The study concludes that fully implementing the program "would eliminate about 300 registrations used to cast a seemingly legitimate vote for every one registration used to cast a double vote."

David Rothschild, an economist at Microsoft Research and one of the authors of the Crosscheck study, says voter fraud in the U.S. is virtually nonexistent.

"In the scope of 130,000,000 or so votes cast in a presidential year, about 0 votes are fraudulent," he says in an email. Rothschild says that the efforts to combat voter fraud do "suppress legitimate voters."

Kobach, a Republican, has championed the Crosscheck program. In May, President Trump named Kobach vice chair of a presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. When the commission asked for voter data from all 50 states, Galvin said he would not comply.

Alison Bruzek Twitter Associate Producer, Radio Boston
Alison Bruzek was a producer for Radio Boston.

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