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MIHALOPOULOS: State pressured to quit controversial vote fraud program

Dick Durbin, Tammy Duckworth

Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth are increasing the pressure on the state to withdraw from a controversial voter fraud program. | File photos

In politics as well as sports, the best referees often are the ones who avoid drawing much attention to themselves.

These days, though, the people who run the elections in our state have found themselves in the middle of a heated debate.

Pressure is growing on the Illinois State Board of Elections to quit the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, led by a supporter of President Donald Trump.

OPINION

The state’s two Democratic U.S. senators joined the rising chorus of criticism. In a letter Thursday to state election board officials, Sens. Dick Durbin and Tammy Duckworth urged Illinois to withdraw from the Crosscheck program, which Illinois authorities have participated in since 2010.

Durbin and Duckworth echoed coast-to-coast concern that Crosscheck — which ostensibly exists to reduce vote fraud — really is being used by Republicans to suppress Democratic votes, particularly in minority communities.

They expressed unease with Kris Kobach, the Republican Kansas secretary of state who leads Crosscheck. Kobach also is vice chairman of Trump’s election fraud commission. That’s the panel Trump started after alleging without proof that massive fraud caused him to receive millions of votes fewer than Hillary Clinton last year.

Crosscheck matches voter data from different states so officials can purge their voter rolls of people registered in more than one state.

Durbin and Duckworth wrote that this process has been shown to generate a “great number of false positives.”

“At a time when American voter turnout lags behind that of many other developed nations, public servants should be doing everything in our power to increase access to the ballot — not wasting taxpayer dollars on a sham system that has been proven time and time again to be inaccurate and harmful,” the senators said.

Like Durbin and Duckworth, Cook County Clerk David Orr told me this week that he now opposes continuing to participate in Crosscheck and favors Illinois relying on another program that also matches the last four digits of voter Social Security numbers.

Until now, Orr favored participating in Crosscheck, as did the Chicago election board. But Chicago elections spokesman Jim Allen said Friday that a majority of the board now opposes Illinois’ continued involvement in Crosscheck.

Illinois elections officials have defended the program, but they have acknowledged one potentially big problem with it, according to an email obtained by Indivisible Chicago, an anti-Trump activist group.

“We are concerned that other states may have released Illinois voter data pursuant to their own [Freedom of Information Act] laws, and as a result we are currently in the process of determining if this is indeed occurring,” Steven Sandvoss, executive director of the state election board, told county elections officials on Oct. 20.

Under our state’s laws, voter data is supposed to be made available only to government officials and political committees.

The specter of your private data as a voter becoming broadly available — and possibly ending up in the hands of those who want to engage in identity theft — can only further discourage participation in our democratic process.

Bernadette Matthews, the Illinois election agency’s assistant executive director, said Friday the state remains in Crosscheck. She declined to comment on the letter from Durbin and Duckworth, saying only it had been shared with all the board members.

It’s easy to cry election fraud anywhere, especially here. Yet, even as other forms of government corruption persist here, it seems we’ve come a long way from the era when Democratic ballots magically outnumbered live, voting-age bodies in some Chicago precincts.

My guess is that officials here sincerely are trying to run clean, fair elections. They don’t need Crosscheck to do even better than they are now.

Quitting Crosscheck also could return them to the relative anonymity they should always seek.