Gov. McAuliffe, end new Jim Crow voter suppression tactic

12/15/2017, 6:37 a.m.
Imagine a wonderful parting gift from Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Imagine if Gov. McAuliffe put an end to Virginia’s strange and …

By Gary Flowers and Greg Palast


Imagine a wonderful parting gift from Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Imagine if Gov. McAuliffe put an end to Virginia’s strange and inexplicable participation in a GOP voter suppression trick that reeks of Jim Crow.

Since 2013, this stealth voter purge program has cost tens of thousands of Virginians of color their right to vote. It’s called Interstate Crosscheck.

Interstate Crosscheck is the suspect computer program created by Kris Kobach, former Kansas secretary of state and a Trump administration appointee as vice chair of the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, also known as the Voter Fraud Commission.

President Trump, who is unfit to serve, alleged that millions of Americans were registered or “voting many, many times” in two or more states in the same election — a felony.

In June, Gov. McAuliffe laughed off these claims of mass voter fraud as nonsense and denounced the Election Integrity Commission as “a tool to commit large-scale voter suppression.”

Furthermore, the governor flatly refused to hand over Virginia’s voter files to Mr. Kobach.

What Gov. McAuliffe did not say — and apparently did not know — is that Virginia already had turned over the files to Mr. Kobach months earlier.

In January, Virginia’s Elections Board sent Mr. Kobach the voting records of 5,629,081 Virginians, including their birth date and Social Security data.

Worse, last year, the state Department of Elections tagged 73,798 Virginians as “duplicate” voters based in part on Mr. Kobach’s suspect list.

Mr. Kobach, using his Crosscheck computer-matching program, has generated a list of an astonishing 3.1 million Americans that he has tagged as suspected “duplicate” voters or registrants.

What is not so laughable is that 28 states have removed hundreds of thousands of voters named on Mr. Kobach’s secret lists. Not surprisingly, almost all of the Crosscheck states are Republican controlled. A surprising exception: Virginia.

So who are these Virginians discovered by Mr. Kobach who dare to register to vote in two states at once?

Despite official resistance, a Rolling Stone magazine investigations team obtained Virginia’s Crosscheck list of the accused. For example, according Crosscheck, James Cross Barnes III of Arlington is “potentially” the same voter as James Elmer Barnes Jr. of Fayetteville, Ga. And James Anthony Barnes is supposed to be the same person as James Ratcliffe Barnes Jr.

Worse still, although Virginia handed over birth date and Social Security information to Mr. Kobach, his lists ignore this data when hunting “duplicate” voters.

So it’s no wonder that, in all, Mr. Kobach tagged an astonishing 354,452 Virginians as two-state registration suspects. Overwhelmingly, these voters happen to be of color and/or vote in heavily Democratic legislative districts.

The result? In 2013, Virginia removed 41,637 voters from the rolls based on Mr. Kobach’s listing.

Last year, the Virginia Department of Elections tagged 73,798 Virginians as potential “duplicate” voters based in part on Mr. Kobach’s list.

Here’s the real danger of Crosscheck: Database experts working with Rolling Stone and the national NAACP found the Crosscheck hit list is racially biased in the extreme. The lists are little more than compilations of common names.

As 85 of the most common 100 American names — Jackson, Hernandez, Kim belong disproportionately to voters of color, it’s no surprise that the list targets 1 in 9 of Virginia’s African-Americans.

That is the reason why the NAACP, the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow PUSH Coalition, the ACLU, Common Cause and others have begun a movement to stop Mr. Kobach’s Crosscheck.

True, the Virginia Board of Elections states that not everyone on the Kobach lists gets purged. Some folks on the lists have moved out of state. But there is not a single proven case of a Virginian voting a second time in another state. This whole racially biased voter purge is created solely for the purpose of stopping a “crime” that does not exist.

Virginia does need to maintain clean voter files. But for that, it pays to use a system called ERIC, created by the non-partisan Pew Charitable Trust.

The Virginia Board of Elections claims purging names on Mr. Kobach’s hit lists is done carefully because postcards are sent to all people tagged — absurdly, even to those whose names clearly don’t match. The postcard looks like junk mail — and you only lose your vote if you don’t send back the card.

The crime, then, is not voting twice, but seemingly failing to return a postcard.

In a recent suit against Crosscheck’s use in Indiana, the NAACP, League of Woman Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law specifically cite the disastrous, racist application of Crosscheck in Virginia.

The massive bias in Mr. Kobach’s Virginia target list, and the overwhelming error rate, make this nothing more than a racial voting rights disaster.

New York, Washington, Oregon and Florida have dumped Crosscheck. Why not Virginia?

Gov. McAuliffe has taken a courageous stand in re-enfranchising ex-felons. This is much easier: Protecting Virginians from the attack by President Trump’s partisan voter suppressors.

So we ask for this parting gift to our democracy. Gov. McAuliffe, put an end to Virginia’s participation in this ugly new Jim Crow attack on voting rights.

Mr. Flowers, a radio host of The Gary Flowers Show on Rejoice 990, is a member of the National Commission for Voter Justice and previously served as national field director with the Rainbow PUSH Coalition.

Mr. Palast is a freelance journalist and author. He directed the 2016 film, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” that centers on his investigation for Rolling Stone magazine of voter suppression tactics used by the Trump campaign during and after the 2016 presidential election.