You've no doubt heard and read about the heart palpitations among our Republican state leaders today when Thom Tillis announced evidence massive voter fraud, which seems to have turned out to be about 700 people *alleged to be* voting here in NC and another state in the last election, about .00075% of the total
voter turnout in the state 101 million voter records that were claimed to be checked by Interstate Crosscheck, the service being used by the state.
Of course, it was an opportunity for Tillis and Company to defend and promote NC's voter restriction laws, called the "worst" in the nation and being challenged in court by the NAACP and the ACLU. Tillis and McCrory didn't use it as an opportunity to announce any investigations or sharing of what was found with the FBI since what might be going on here besides felony voter fraud is identity theft or other activity.
Who cares about investigating possible felonies when there's a press release to push out, really?
What's more disturbing to me is how this suspected voter fraud was found.
At the heart of Tillis's evidence are some disturbing questions about data the state of North Carolina has about you, how secure that data is, and what might be happening or could happen with it.
Until the revelations about the NSA collection of cellphone metadata, the field of "Big Data" was something of interest only to a small group of academic researchers, commercial marketers, and political consultants. As with the NSA cellphone metadata collection, it isn't the content of the information that matters as much as how it can be analyzed and cross-checked to infer more detailed information. With this voter fraud effort that Tillis and other Republican extremists in NC have bought into, the idea of "Big Data" is something you need to be concerned about if you want to protect your voting rights.
State lawmakers mandated that the State Board of Elections enter into the "Interstate Crosscheck", an interstate consortium that checks the voting records of 28 states. It includes 101 million voting records.
"The program was developed by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican ....He also has championed voter ID laws, and drew support from one side and lawsuits from the other when he imposed a citizenship check on voter registration. The ACLU, says Daniel Ho, director of its Voting Rights Project, is preparing to sue Kobach for violating the National Voters Rights Act."
Kobach's tactics and rhetoric should be familiar to anyone following voter restriction laws here in NC. He was highlighted in a 2011 Rolling Stone piece on the Koch brothers backing of GOP groups to restrict voting.
No one has done more to stir up fears about the manufactured threat of voter fraud than Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a top adviser in the Bush Justice Department who has become a rising star in the GOP. "We need a Kris Kobach in every state," declared Michelle Malkin, the conservative pundit. This year, Kobach successfully fought for a law requiring every Kansan to show proof of citizenship in order to vote – even though the state prosecuted only one case of voter fraud in the past five years. The new restriction fused anti-immigrant hysteria with voter-fraud paranoia. "In Kansas, the illegal registration of alien voters has become pervasive," Kobach claimed, offering no substantiating evidence.
Kobach also asserted that dead people were casting ballots, singling out a deceased Kansan named Alfred K. Brewer as one such zombie voter. There was only one problem: Brewer was still very much alive. The Wichita Eagle found him working in his front yard. "I don't think this is heaven," Brewer told the paper. "Not when I'm raking leaves."
Vicki pointed to some of the deceptive uses of the data collected by the "Interstate Crosscheck" program to highlight so-called voter fraud - all that's required to get a "hit" for possible voter fraud is a match on first and last name and date of birth.
An excerpt from the AxixPhilly piece:
Following his state’s participation in the Crosscheck program, Ohio Secretary of State John Husted announced: “This report demonstrates that voter fraud does exist,” citing numbers in the hundreds to back up his claim. In fact, his office referred only 20 cases to law enforcement and none have resulted in charges so far.
Earlier this year, Colorado Secretary of State Scott Gessler announced that the Crosscheck had helped identify 17 cases of alleged fraud, which were submitted to the Boulder County District Attorney’s office for investigation. In July, the Boulder D.A. announced that none had involved fraud and called Gessler’s actions “politically motivated.”
Vicki noted in her comments that "...within the 28 states that participate in this "Interstate Crosscheck" program, there have been 10 (TEN) cases of possible (POSSIBLE) voter fraud turned over to law enforcement or the FBI for further investigation."
The "Interstate Crosscheck" program asks states for "13 items of data" for each voter. According to the Axisphilly piece, these include the last four digits of their social security number and middle name. A PowerPoint promoting the program, prepared by the Kansas Department of State for the National Association of State Election Directors, outlines this in more detail:
- First name
- Middle name
- Last name
- Date of birth
- Last four digits of SSN
- Address of residency
- Zip code of residency
- Election you voted in
The PowerPoint presentation only says that the data is uploaded to a secure FTP server in Arkansas, then processed by the Kansas IT department and results uploaded to the FTP server, and that Kansas deletes all the information.
If the PowerPoint is to be believed and, indeed, this is all the data that's being collected, the big point of concern with the information being collected by the Kansas state department from these 28 states is how the data is being handled. They say it's uploaded to a "secure server", but what happens after that? Are there secure procedures for handling the data while it is being checked for suspected "voter fraud"? Who has access to the data? Do state employees or commercial contractors in different states have access to their own data or data from other states? What are the disposal procedures for destroying the data?
The "Interstate Crosscheck" program has this information. What could someone do with it?
You've probably noticed the plethora of billboards; radio, tv and web ads; and telephone calls that accompanying a campaign from the campaigns themselves and issue groups like Americans for Prosperity. With the precinct level results of the election, political consultants and marketers can get a general idea of the kind of results particular advertising messages and methods have on the outcome.
However, with this additional data that shows who showed up, the Board of Elections data on each voter could be cross-referenced with data about individual voters from marketing firms or credit agencies, giving consultants and marketers a detailed picture about their messaging and advertising that goes beyond just political affiliation to see, for example, if voters from certain income brackets, racial groups, or even your presence on social media, like Facebook.
While this can be done at the state level, having this detailed information across states would allow political consultants and advertisers to run a variety of scenarios or "test" campaigns in elections, targeted at different types of voters/consumers across a broad geographic area.
Don't you think this would be useful to a group like Americans for Prosperity if, for example, they were wondering what message about Obamacare seems to motivate voters in a particular age range and income bracket that happen to shop at certain stores or who "like" particular items on Facebook?
Do we have any assurances that the data being collected by the Kansas department of state won't be used in such a way?
With information about specific voters that turned out, cross-referenced with their polling place, it would be easy to use this information to see what types of voters turned out and where they voted to create a larger plan on counties or precincts where restricting voting hours or days or moving a polling location might have a significant impact on the possible outcome.
While general information about registration and election outcomes gives you big trends in an area, more specific voter information would allow you to coordinate this effort more closely, concentrating on moving particular polling places or getting specific voting days and hours in place that are worth bothering with for the result you want.
It also gives legislators and state official "cover" - if, for example, they were sued over voting restrictions, they could just point to local election boards for the decisions made at the city, county or precinct level.
Using data from across states, it could be useful to run projections on how these restrictions on voting might impact a Presidential race or, if combined with marketing data, how issue ads or phone calls might play out nationally or regionally.
How do we know that this voter information couldn't be copied and passed to political operatives for planning polling place and voter hour restrictions?
Identity theft is a big problem in our connected world. Sometimes, only pieces of information about an individual can be assembled by a crook to get a line of credit or carry out other activity. As the recent Target credit card breach shows, criminals try to gain large databases of consumer information to slice, dice and sell on the open market.
A crafty criminal just needs the last four digits of your social security number and a little more information about you to guess the rest of your SSN. Cross-referencing data collected as part of the "Interstate Crosscheck" program to birth records would give criminals what they need to have the full Social Security numbers of many voters.
Do we have any assurances that the data being collected by the "Interstate Crosscheck" program is secure and won't fall into the hands of criminals?
Is this data being collected by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach being used for any of the purposes I've described? I have no idea. I'm simply pointing out the value this data would have to campaigns, issue advocacy groups and political operatives.
This data, at least without Social Security numbers, is public information and has been used (and misued) by groups like Voter Integrity Project of NC, Art Pope's Civitas, or local political parties and organizations. However, amassing such a large database of voter information from multiple states, including part of the voter's Social Security numbers, where procedures and accountability aren't made clear, is something new.
While "voter fraud" is a convenient issue for conservatives to rile up the anti-immigrant and racist base, I do have to wonder if there's another motive for putting so much time, effort, and money into collection of such a large database of voter information when the actual cases of voter fraud prosecuted because of this program are so small.
As North Carolina citizens, I do think we have a right to ask some tough questions about what is happening to this information and to see, in detail, what policies and procedures are in place to protect it. Since this is a project that reaches across state lines, what assurances do we have that someone in Kansas, Arkansas or another state that can access the data can be held accountable under North Carolina law if criminal activity or political misuse of this data occurs?
Karl Rove and the Koch brothers are interested in Big Data. Shouldn't you be?