WICHITA, Kan. (AP) — A civil rights group filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday against Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach challenging a multi-state voter registration database it claims exposed sensitive information including partial Social Security numbers from nearly a thousand state voters.
The complaint by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas alleges "reckless maintenance" of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck Program, which compares voter registration lists among participating states to look for duplicates. The program is aimed at cleaning voter records and preventing voter fraud but has drawn criticism for its high error rate and lax security.
Kobach, a conservative Republican seeking his party's nomination for governor, was vice chairman of President Donald Trump's now-disbanded commission on election fraud. The ACLU claims Kobach has made the program a linchpin in his efforts to reduce citizen participation in Kansas elections.
"This ACLU lawsuit is yet another attack on secure and fair elections in America," Kobach said in an emailed statement. "The ACLU is attacking states that try to keep our voter rolls clean. I will fight them every step of the way."
Kobach called the lawsuit baseless, citing the U.S. Supreme Court last week in an Ohio case dealing with maintenance of voter rolls. The court affirmed Ohio's practice of identifying voters for potential removal if they don't vote in a federal election. Ohio removes voters from the rolls if they don't return an address confirmation card or vote during the next four years.
The program was started in 2005 and had only four participants when Kobach took office in 2011. By 2017, 30 states were participating in Crosscheck and more than 100 million voter records were added to the database, according to the lawsuit. Eight states — Florida, Alaska, Kentucky, Washington, Oregon, New York, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts — have left the program due to security risks and data reliability concerns since Kobach began managing it.
Crosscheck compares registration lists and analyzes voters' first name, surname and date of birth to determine whether a person is registered in multiple states, but the lawsuit contends most of the hits are false matches. Kobach encourages states to provide voters' partial Social Security numbers and other confidential information to narrow the list. The lawsuit alleges Kobach regularly sends voter signatures as well as the server address and passwords via unencrypted email.
The ACLU's lawsuit, which seeks class action status, contends it is unknown how many voters had their information exposed but alleges that in a single communication in 2017 Florida election officials released the name, date of birth, address and partial Social Security number of 945 Kansas voters in responding to an open records request. That included the personal information for the three named Kansas plaintiffs — Scott Moore, James Long and Nancy Perry — on whose behalf the ACLU filed the suit.
"This case is about a public official recklessly exposing the personal information of the state's voters — Republican, Democratic, and unaffiliated alike — and unnecessarily leaving them vulnerable to identity theft," Lauren Bonds, the group's legal director said in a news release.
The lawsuit seeks to block Kobach from continuing to maintain, share and release sensitive law enforcement information, such as partial Social Security numbers, with other states in connection with the program. It also seeks to remedy past disclosures. It also asks the court for a declaratory judgment that Kobach violated the voters' Fourteenth Amendment right to privacy as well as the Kansas Public Records Act, which prohibits government disclosure of Social Security numbers.
The lawsuit alleges that in addition to administering the national Crosscheck program, Kobach uploads the voter registration data of 1.3 million Kansans to its server and shares with participating states identifiable information of the more than 150,000 Kansas voters identified as possible double registrants.
It is asking the court for an injunction that requires Kobach to halt transmission of personal voter data until "industry standard practices and procedures" are implemented. It also seeks unspecified civil penalties against Kobach.