The Vote Fraud Fraud

There’s not much “history” in this post aside from the history of vote suppression via nominally color-blind means that disenfranchised Black Americans from the end of Reconstruction to the present, with a brief respite during the years between the Voting Rights Act and Shelby County (J. Morgan Kousser’s got that covered). As Greg Palast makes clear in an extensively researched and outrage-inducing report for Al-Jazeera America, the use of the proprietary Interstate Crosscheck program, a creation of Kansas Tea Party Secretary of State Kris Kobach, may become the cornerstone of a multi-state purge of voters whose only offense is having a name similar to someone else living across state lines. Kobach’s track record of vote suppression has been well documented, along with his hostility toward minority voters and his willingness to to to extravagant lengths to prevent the largely non-existent problem of in-person voter fraud. That combating this pseudoproblem carries the inevitable consequence of disenfranchising many times more legitimate voters is a feature, not a bug, of the system.

Palast’s report ought to generate outrage. The system purports to identify voters suspected of maintaining registration and voting in multiple states. There is no evidence that this happens frequently enough to have the slightest impact on an election, but, of course, that isn’t the point. Crosscheck has a systematic bias against minority group members because the system keys on voting list matches across state lines where a voter in one state in a given year has a first and last name in common with a voter in another state. Minority group members in the United States have significantly less diversity in family names, either because their enslaved ancestors were assigned the names of their masters, or because their ancestry is from a place where a small number of family names are common.

Mark Swedlund is a specialist in list analytics whose clients have included eBay, AT&T and Nike. At Al Jazeera America’s request, he conducted a statistical review of Crosscheck’s three lists of suspected double voters.

According to Swedlund, “It appears that Crosscheck does have inherent bias to over-selecting for potential scrutiny and purging voters from Asian, Hispanic and Black ethnic groups. In fact, the matching methodology, which presumes people in other states with the same name are matches, will always over-select from groups of people with common surnames.” Swedlund sums up the method for finding two-state voters — simply matching first and last name — as “ludicrous, just crazy.”

It also shows that the system as used to detect possible two-state voters ignores safeguards to prevent false matches:

But the actual lists show that not only are middle names commonly mismatched and suffix discrepancies ignored, even birthdates don’t seem to have been taken into account. Moreover, Crosscheck deliberately ignores Social Security mismatches, in the few instances when the numbers are even collected. The Crosscheck instructions for county election officers state, “Social Security numbers are included for verification; the numbers might or might not match.”

In practice, all it takes to become a suspect is sharing a first and last name with a voter in another state. Typical “matches” identifying those who may have voted in both Georgia and Virginia include:

  • Kevin Antonio Hayes of Durham, North Carolina, is a match for a man who voted in Alexandria, Virginia, as Kevin Thomas Hayes.
  • John Paul Williams of Alexandria is supposedly the same man as John R. Williams of Atlanta, Georgia.
  • Robert Dewey Cox of Marietta, Georgia is matched with Robert Glen Cox of Springfield, Virginia.

The use of Crosscheck will probably have its most profound effects in statewide races for Governor and U.S. Senator. Congressional districts are sufficiently gerrymandered that the insurance provided by suppressing potentially unfriendly voters is probably not needed, while turnout in metro areas and rural areas where minorities live in large numbers can determine whether conservative-leaning and largely white voters carry an election.

But its effects on local politics and metropolitics at the county level shouldn’t be underestimated. I’ve written before about the way that voting rights are tied to metropolitics in Fulton County, and particularly the way that controlling the composition of the electorate is key to the balance of power between north Fulton on the Republican side and Democratic Atlanta and south Fulton. It’s not a coincidence, in my view, that metro Atlanta has been a breeding ground for vote suppression tactics, since the Republican Party has had a strong stake in limiting the voting power of Black Atlantans to win control of the county and state governments. One former chair of the Fulton County Republican Party, Hans von Spakovsky, influenced Georgia’s pioneering voter ID legislation, and, as a member of George W. Bush’s Justice Department sought to shift enforcement priorities to voting in ways that career Justice lawyers found objectionable. Today he’s ensconced at the Heritage Foundation where he has been riding two hobby horses: Eric Holder is a thug politicizing the Justice Department and the Democrats are conspiring to steal elections (I have the Google News Alert set up so you don’t have to. You’re welcome). As Jane Mayer ably notes, he’s Kris Kobach’s godfather in vote suppression.

And today, Atlanta metropolitics are lurking in the background of the battle over voter fraud (excuse me, “voter fraud”). State Representative Stacy Abrams, the House Minority Leader and the founder of New Georgia Project, has just lost a case in Fulton County Superior Court over Secretary of State Brian Kemp’s evident refusal to process 40,000 voter registration applications collected by the group. But Abrams is also concerned about the fact that Kemp has enthusiastically added Georgia to the list of states using Crosscheck to monitor, and potentially purge, their voting rolls.

It’s biased, I think, both in form and intent,” says Rep. Stacey Abrams, leader of the Democrats in the Georgia state legislature. “But more concerning to me is the fact this is being done stealthfully. … We have never had this information presented to us.”

Abrams is especially concerned that the Crosscheck list was crafted by GOP official Kobach. “I believe that Kris Kobach has demonstrated a very aggressive animus towards people of color … in voter registration,” she says. Abrams is now threatening legislative and legal action against Kemp.

In the meantime, local Republican officials are hewing closely to the party line:

Though Kobach declined to be interviewed, Roger Bonds, the chairman of the Republican Party in Georgia’s Fulton County, responds, “This is how we have successfully prevented voter fraud.”

Indeed. Here’s Brian Kemp, the official in charge of voter registration and vote counting in Georgia, where Democrats are in range of knocking off an incumbent Republican governor and claiming an open U.S. Senate seat.

UHA Meeting 2014

I’ve gotten settled back in after returning from the Urban History Association meeting in Philadelphia. The theme for this year’s meeting was Metropolitics, a matter near and dear to me, and a theme that I’m excited to see becoming central to the craft of what urban historians Building on early urban histories of political development and infrastructure, a second wave of urban social history, a new wave of urban histories exploring the “urban crisis,” and the explosion of suburban history, many of the talks I saw (and, arguably, one that I gave!) represented efforts at thinking through the connections between cities, suburbs, and hinterlands at multiple spatial scales and in the registers of migration, electoral politics, the environment, and social activism. It was a great meeting all around, and definitely the most blogged and tweeted UHA yet.

One other exciting thing about this meeting? The number of papers on Atlanta. As the Tropics of Meta crew notes here, tax revolts, public housing, and transportation in the ATL came in for analysis, in ways that linked institutional changes and political activism in interesting ways. I might smell an Atlanta panel for the 2016 Organization of American Historians meeting on “Leadership”–let’s put that topic in its (urban and metropolitan) place!

I’d recommend the rest of the writeups on Tropics of Meta’s Academics In the Wild for anyone interested in a serious (but witty) recap. If you’re not down with UHA, maybe the academic TMZ will be stalking your next meeting to observe what happens when they let us out of our offices, classrooms, and archives. And the UHA’s The City in History blog has come on strong to consistently deliver some great writing from urban and metro historians connecting historical processes to current urban problems (in ways that the professional field sometimes fails to encourage) and pulling back the curtain on the craft of research. Their coverage of the meeting is here.

The next UHA is in Chicago in 2016.