Why We're Testifying for Illinois to Drop Crosscheck

Bernadette Matthews, representative witness for the State Board of Elections, testifies at Wednesday's joint hearing to the Illinois House and Senate committees.

Bernadette Matthews, representative witness for the State Board of Elections, testifies at Wednesday's joint hearing to the Illinois House and Senate committees.

For months now, voting rights advocates have been urging the Illinois State Board of Elections to drop out of the Interstate Crosscheck program controlled by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach.

Today, Chicago Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights submitted testimony in partnership with Common Cause Illinois and Chicago Votes to a joint committee hearing in the Illinois House and Senate on our state’s participation in Crosscheck.

Read our testimony.

Public calls for the Illinois State Board of Elections to withdraw from Crosscheck have risen to a fever pitch in recent weeks, as the notoriously inaccurate data tool has come under fire for unfair purges of voters of color and security lapses in the way it handles the personal data of nearly 100 million voter records. Security flaws in the Crosscheck system have been extensively investigated and reported by ProPublica and Gizmodo.

Putting the alarming security risks aside, Crosscheck comes with other hidden costs for Illinois and for election integrity nationwide. The program ostensibly addresses voter fraud, which election officials across the political spectrum agree is a grossly exaggerated problem. In fact, the bipartisan Illinois State Board of Elections has concluded that suspected instances of voter fraud in Illinois make up a couple thousandths of a single percent of the votes cast in the state.

Crosscheck uses an overly simplistic and statistically inaccurate method to find instances of “duplicate voters” or “matches” in different states. According to a paper published this year by researchers at Stanford, Harvard, Yale, the University of Pennsylvania, and Microsoft, Crosscheck can produce false positives for duplicate voters roughly 99 percent of the time.

These false reports can lead to unfair purging of voters from the rolls. Even if Illinois takes the time and resources to investigate each report of duplicate voting provided by Crosscheck, the data can still be used by other states to eliminate registered voters. This is a grave injustice for states like neighboring Indiana, which recently enacted a law that allows election officials to remove voters in those cases without confirming the match, or even notifying voters that they have been removed from the rolls.

Crosscheck harms voters of all backgrounds and political parties, but it has a particularly disproportionate effect on voters of color. Because Crosscheck does not control for increased name commonality among voters of color, this leads to an inherent bias in voter purges. Evidence shows that in certain states, Crosscheck flags one in six Latinos, one in seven Asian Americans, and one in nine African Americans as potential matches - - and potentially purged voters. 

None of these alarming risks and costs are necessary for our state. Illinois more recently started using another system called the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which is more accurate and secure, readily available, and has even been attributed to increases in voter registration. Illinois also stands to significantly improve the accuracy of its voter rolls once it implements automatic voter registration.

Just as Illinois has been a national leader in passing voting rights reforms recently to increase fairness in our elections, it is time for the Illinois State Board of Elections to be a leader  by withdrawing from Crosscheck. By doing so, our state would be protecting voters’ personal data and defending the integrity of our nation’s non-partisan election process.

Update on November 20, 2017:

The Illinois State Board of Elections voted 4-4 today on withdrawal from Crosscheck, which means that they will not withdraw at the current time. The Board suggested that no additional voter information will be submitted to Crosscheck until there is a comprehensive overhaul of security protocols, and we urge the Board to share information regarding such safeguards. We are disappointed that Illinois will remain in Crosscheck. We will continue advocating to the Board to withdraw from the database, and to take measures to safeguard voter data and access while we remain in the program.