Just prior to the 2016 election, over 1 million voters — mostly black and brown voters — were purged from registration rolls in 29 states across the nation through the Interstate Crosscheck System. This system, designed and diffused by the Republican Party under the leadership of Kansas Secretary of State and white nationalist Kris Kobach, has played an important role in Congressional elections since 2006. By allowing the Republican Party to selectively purge minority voters in key states and counties, Crosscheck enabled the GOP to take the House of Representatives in 2010, Congress in 2014 and the White House in 2016.
A number of these purges were ruled to be illegal, but the damage had already been done. Today, the GOP controls all three branches of government and Kris Kobach serves as the Vice-Chair of the Commission on Election Integrity and Donald Trump is President.
Many community members, organizations, and reporters representing black and brown communities have called for an end to the voter suppression implemented through the Crosscheck purges, but these calls have gone largely unanswered. While the Democrats supposedly have a vested interest in enforcing the right for black and brown voters to cast a ballot and preventing the GOP from cheating their way to victory — they have remained suspiciously unwilling to challenge GOP purging efforts.
Not only have they refused to take the GOP and Crosscheck to court for violations of the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and the Voting Rights Act of 1965, they have intentionally misrepresented their resistance to Kris Kobach and obscured their own use of voter purging prior to elections.
On July 28, for example, Kris Kobach sent a letter to all 50 Secretaries of State requesting the personal information of their voters. The request read:
“…in order for the Commission to fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting, I am requesting that you provide to the Commission the publicly available voter roll data…including…the full first and last names of all registrants, middle names or initials if available, addresses, dates of birth, political party (if recorded in your state), last four digits of social security number if available, voter history (elections voted in) from 2006 onward, active/inactive status, cancelled status, information regarding any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, information regarding military status, and overseas citizen information.”
The response of the nation’s SoS’s was puzzling.
Rather than acknowledging that Kobach already had much of the information he requested because of data gathered through the Interstate Crosscheck System, they staged a highly coordinated — and overwhelmingly deceptive — public refusal to comply in fill or in part with the Vice-Chair of the Commission on Election Integrity’s request. The media began replaying the narrative of resistance and Secretaries of State began flooding social media and news stations with false talking points masked behind rhetorical tough talk.
For example, Kentucky’s SoS Alison J Grimes (D) achieved momentary celebrity status when she appeared on MSNBC and declared:
“There’s not enough bourbon here in Kentucky to make this request seem sensible. Not on my watch are we going to be releasing sensitive information that relate to the privacy of individuals.”
While this statement was a popular and admittedly humorous media soundbite, it seemed to be an inappropriate statement considering that Kentucky is a Crosscheck state and Grimes had already turned over much of the information requested to Kobach through her state’s participation in that program.
Grimes and her fellow Secretaries of State’s public assertions of non-compliance were rhetorically bold, but completely meaningless. Well, almost meaningless.
The refusal of white leadership in the Democratic Party to respond to black and brown communities’ calls to end voter purging combined with this intentionally orchestrated and deceptive effort to convince the public that there is pushback against Kris Kobach and the Commission on Election Integrity raises a not-so-meaningless question: What are the Democrats trying to pull here?
The search for the answer to this question leads to some surprising findings.
While the Republicans have been purging voters through the Interstate Crosscheck System, the Democrats have been conducting their own purges using the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. As self-described:
“The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) is a non-profit organization with the sole mission of assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens. ERIC is governed and managed by states who choose to join, and was formed in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts.”
While Crosscheck was adopted by 30 states (Florida, Pennsylvania and Washington have since left the system), the overwhelming majority were Republican, Democratic States quickly adopted ERIC. Combined, the two collect voter data from just shy of all 50 states. On the surface, ERIC seems to be the Democratic counter-program to the GOP’s Interstate Crosscheck System. Once that surface is scratched, though, that narrative quickly falls apart.
The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) was formed under the leadership of Pew Charitable Trusts. Pew Charitable Trusts touts itself as an independent organization that:
“…has increased its focus on strategic planning and on establishing measurable goals to ensure that we maximize the results of our investments on behalf of society. Today we are a global nongovernmental organization committed to improving public policy, informing the public, and invigorating civic life.”
As rhetorically non-partisan as Pew claims to be, evidence suggests that their strategic goals and activities overwhelmingly favor the Republican Party. And there is good reason for this.
Pew Charitable Trusts was founded by the four children of Sun Oil Company’s founder Joseph Newton Pew. Sun Oil Company currently operates under the name Sunoco, Inc. and is subsidiary of Energy Transfer Partners. Sunoco and Energy Transfer Partners are both major donors and lobbyists for Republican oil interests. For example, they recently gained notoriety for their battle against the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in their efforts to build the Keystone Pipeline through their territory. Energy Transfer Partners was ultimately won this battle by because of action taken by one of their stock holders — Donald Trump. (Trump has since stated that he sold his stocks in ETP.)
So, while Pew Charitable Trusts claims to be an independent not-for-profit organization, the information gathered from its political activities, including voter data and statistics, can easily be accessed by the oil industry, the Republican Party and the Trump Administration through their research institutions and databases.
The connections don’t end there.
Pew also gives voter information to Kobach, the GOP and the Trump Administration through a collaboration with Google and Election Systems and Software (ES&S).
The year following the launch of the Electronic Voter Registration Project (ERIC), Pew partnered with Google to present the Voting Information Project Award (VIP). In 2013, this award was granted to 9 states at the National Association of Secretaries of State’s summer conference in Alaska. Amongst the states awarded was Kansa. Secretary of State Kris Kobach accepted the award on its behalf.
According to the Kansas Secretary of State’s office publication Canvassing Kansas:
“By joining the project on the ground floor, Kansas was among the first states to help registered voters to more readily find election information when they need it and where they are most likely to look for it. Government websites often are not the first place voters look. VIP is similar to the online VoterView feature of the Kansas voter registration system, and voters who perform Google searches for voter registration information will end up at the VoterView website as a result of the VIP.
In the run up to the 2012 general election, 22 million times users queried the Google Civic Information API. According to the VIP program, “When the project started in 2008, nobody involved knew whether the open data effort would have any impact at all. Early adopters took a risk on something new by agreeing to participate and the payoff was immense.”
The publication also noted that the Kansas Secretary of State’s office was also used as a “go-between” to avoid restrictions on monetary exchange and that Electronic Systems and Services was managing the software for the project writing:
“The VIP program was initiated as a cooperative effort between the Pew Foundation and Google. As a private charitable organization, Pew’s rules do not allow them to pay money to a private for-profit corporation, so Pew asked the Kansas SOS office to serve as a go-between. The SOS office wrote specifications and requested Election Systems & Software to make the required programming changes in the voter registration database. The cost of the programming was paid by Pew to the SOS office and passed on to ES&S. As a result, all states with ES&S databases benefit from the new functionality.”
Currently ES&S has a presence in 45 states nationwide. 22 of these states use ES&S registration software, which can be accessed by Kobach directly through his partnership with Pew Charitable Trusts. Through this partnership, Kobach can also access voter information from the Democratic states that participate in ERIC (rather than Crosscheck) and those that use ES&S software and voting machines.
It gets worse.
Not only has Election Systems and Software (ES&S) been used to filter voter data to the Republican Party and the Trump Administration, but this data has also become an attractive information mine for Russian hackers.
For example, the Department of Homeland Security recently issued a statement to 21 states informing them that their voter registration systems had been targeted by Russian hackers prior to the 2016 election. The overwhelming majority of these states used Pew Charitable Trusts’ Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) as well as software and services from Electronic Systems and Services (ES&S).
As a result, in addition to handing their voter data over to Kobach and the Republican Party through Crosscheck, ERIC, and Pew — the Democratic Party is handing it over to Russia via Election Systems and Software (ES&S).
This raises another question of the Democratic Party: Why?
Why would the Democrats be interested in systems that purge black and brown voters from registration rolls?
The Republican Party is overwhelmingly dominated by white people. It needs to selectively purge black and brown voters in order to defeat the Democratic Party at the polls. The Democratic Party, which maintains a largely white leadership and participation structure despite carrying the overwhelming majority of voters of color, might have a vested interest in selectively purging black and brown voters during their primaries and for target state and local elections.
This is purely assumptive, though.
More research will need to be done to understand the motivation behind the Democratic Party’s decisions to allow black and brown citizens to be deprived their constitutional right to vote by white nationalists and the GOP. More research will need to be done to understand why the Democratic Party is willingly partnering with Pew Charitable Trusts (and Sunoco, Inc) in order to participate in programs that allow Kris Kobach, the Republican Party and the Trump Administration to access their constituents’ voter data. More research will need to be done to understand why the Democrats are using databases and voting machines that allow Election Services and Software (ES&S) to hand over voter data to Kris Kobach and the Republican Party directly, and leaves this data vulnerable to Russian hacking.
What is known, though, is that the Democrats are refusing to ensure the Interstate Crosscheck System is ruled to be in violation of federal law and dismantled. They are refusing to restore the voter registration rolls of states that participate in the Interstate Crosscheck System or make any efforts to re-enfranchise the black and brown voters suppressed by the Republican led, white nationalist managed voter purging system.
Further, rather than acknowledging that Kobach, the Republican Party, the Trump Administration and potentially Russia already had much of the information the Commission on Election Integrity requested through Pew and ES&S — the Democrats engaged in an organized and intentionally deceptive media campaign claiming their Secretaries of State were protecting voter information from the GOP and the Trump Administration.
The reasons the white leadership in the Democratic Party would allow the Republicans to illegally purge black and brown voters from registration rolls across the nation remains to be determined. The reasons the Democratic party are sending voter information to the Trump Administration and the Republican Party through Pew Charitable Trusts and Election Systems and Software also remains unknown.
Whatever the reasons, though, black and brown voters are being intentionally purged by the GOP. The Democratic Party refuses to take action against them. This refusal to act may be rooted in their own participation in race-based voter purging. Black and brown Democrats, especially Congressional Democrats of color, now have the responsibility to confront the white leadership within the party and demand answers.
For more information on voter purging and suppression, visit: http://strategycampsite.org/v2/
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