When both Pennsylvania Democratic Party Chairman Marcel Groen and the North Carolina Democratic Party’s deputy executive director, Douglass Wilson, were asked about a little-known, but nasty, national voter-purge effort called “Interstate Crosscheck” in their respective states during a broadcast of Reality Check, this author’s daily public-affairs radio program on Philadelphia’s WURD, neither could say what it was or what it meant.
“If you give me an opportunity to look further into it, I’ll certainly get back to you,” said Groen after pausing and then recovering in a huff of party-chair gregariousness.
Since that interview, there’s been no follow-up as promised, despite the fact that both of their states—both major presidential and Senate battlegrounds—house big pockets of black voters crucial to Democratic wins on the local, state and federal levels. And when The Root, as well as WURD, reached out to the Democratic National Committee for insight on what the Interstate Crosscheck system is and why so many states (30 at last count, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures) are signed on to it, there was no answer.
The problem here is that there’s a massive and somewhat sinister voter-purging database innocuously dubbed “Crosscheck”—and not a lot of people seem to know anything about it. It seems to have grown like a Freedom Tower-sized Chia Pet, unabated, right under the noses of Democratic Party leadership, which stands to lose as much from its existence as does the vast expanse of black America, which stands to lose much more.
So, what is Crosscheck? Officially, its stated purpose it to simply, and innocently, make sure a voter isn’t registered or voting in more than one state—basically, making sure you don’t end up like Steve Bannon, Jared Kushner, Sean Spicer and Tiffany Trump, to name a few in Trump World who are.
Crosscheck states essentially talk to one another to make sure a voter isn’t showing up twice in different states. However, Crosscheck runs into issues because 1) it’s a patchwork of more than two dozen states sifting through more than two dozen voter rolls, 2) it’s disproportionately flagging and eliminating voters of color based on their common names, rather than flagging itself for violating folks’ voting rights, and 3) it’s being actively used by greedy partisans as a veil for straight up voter suppression.
While Crosscheck quietly wraps itself around unsuspecting voting victims, like the seductive but deadly snake Kaa in The Jungle Book movie, slowly crushing their electoral effectiveness into a bone pile of political forget-me-nots, there’s no countereffort to closely evaluate it, question it or altogether stop it.
Meanwhile, states just can’t stop signing on to Crosscheck, universally lauded by numerous state election officials as the only way to keep tabs on the destructive scourge of voter fraud … that probably only exists in Tolkien’s Middle Earth. When Crosscheck was kicked off in 2005 by then Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach—an anti-immigration lawyer with an itch for white nationalist sympathies—it was a regional, four-state consortium of some of the demographically whitest and Republican states in the American heartland looking for a way to clamp down on any hint of people-of-color voting power. But by 2012 it bloomed to include 15 states (pdf); in 2013 it was 22. And by 2014 it was 29.
Interestingly enough, the Crosscheck orgy happened on the watch of one black president and two consecutively black attorneys general who absolutely didn’t say or do anything about it.
Finally, by 2015, the left-aligned Center for American Progress Action Fund took enough notice to highlight it in its Health of State Democracies Report, perhaps the most authoritative user-friendly map yet of exactly what this thing is (and even after that warning in 2015, three more states signed on to it, anyway, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures’ count). The CAP Action Fund describes it as a multistate system used to “identify voters potentially registered to vote in more than one state.”
“States need a mechanism to maintain accurate voter rolls, but the states participating in the Interstate Crosscheck system risk purging legally registered voters—with a significant oversampling from communities of color—from the voting lists,” the CAP Action Fund states.
Kobach was able to institute a nationwide scrubbing of voter rolls through Crosscheck along with individual member states, which resulted in the pre-2014 congressional midterm flagging of 7 million names, or “potential double voters.” No one thought to stop him—again, not even the first black president and a black attorney general who claimed to make voting rights a priority. Roughly 14 percent of all black voters were purged from databases under the guise of preventing “double-voting” and “fraud.”
The culprit, according to the Health of State Democracies report: “50 percent of communities of color share a common surname, while only 30 percent of white people do—and thus a significant overrepresentation of minority voters on the Crosscheck list. White voter names are underrepresented by 8 percent, African-American voters are overrepresented by 45 percent; Hispanic voters are overrepresented by 24 percent; and Asian voters are overrepresented by 31 percent.”
Kobach now enjoys national acclaim as co-chair of the Trump administration’s nefarious new voter-fraud commission.
Even as 20 states have joined a dubious compromise alternative to Crosscheck, known as ERIC, the Electronic Registration Information Center (paid for by both state dues and donations from the Pew Charitable Trust), it’s not clear that’s helping. Most of the ERIC states are still Crosscheck states, so it’s not as if ERIC forces member states to stop using Crosscheck. Nor is there any data, yet, to show that ERIC either keeps purging from happening or that it, too, disproportionately affects voters of color. So at this point, it’s just another extension of a voter-suppression franchise for that deep-seated, near-erotic Republican obsession with a voter-fraud problem that never existed in the first place.
Yet, Crosscheck still reigns supreme as the “double-voter” prevention tool of choice by a majority of state governments and secretaries of state.
That’s not a surprise given that each Crosscheck state has similar political characteristics. More than 80 percent of legislatures in Crosscheck states are governed completely by Republicans—and watch how that domination of state capitals expanded between 2014 and 2016 as Crosscheck was in full purging mode. In fact, the most dramatic dips in Democratic Party power (as seen here) have occurred since 2014 (the year Crosscheck caught fire). And now 70 percent of Crosscheck states are, conveniently, dominated by GOP governors.
And not only are Republican governors and state legislatures the most inclined to use Crosscheck—they’re also the states with some of the highest black populations in the country.
What’s obvious is that Democrats are playing checkers (picking awfully flawed presidential candidates; forced into runoffs on congressional elections they should win; using Donald Trump as their main messaging platform, etc.) while Republicans are playing an endless game of chess. While the GOP continues coming up with even more innovative ways to poach, purge and decimate black, brown and Asian voters, Democrats can’t or won’t fight it. It’s like the frustrated and scared mom-and-pop shop owners bullied by the local mob while the completely ineffective neighborhood beat cops stop to look in and then keep on walking.
For 2018, Democrats are raising record sums of cash to compete, outpacing Republicans by nearly $200 million in the fundraising race thus far. Some of that money, along with untold millions more from super PACs, could be used to mount a pugnacious multistate legal attack against Crosscheck states on the basis that the system is out of compliance with federal law (particularly the National Voter Registration Act). That could include taking on both Democratic and Republican secretaries of state who oversee state elections.
But instead of protecting loyal constituencies who have historically gotten them elected and are the key to their gaining back political power, Democrats are about to waste cash on the 6 out of 9 of their most vulnerable senators who just so happen to find themselves in a Crosscheck state. And since black voters don’t see Democrats fighting for their right to vote, it’s not likely the ones who can will be rushing to the polls in 2018.