First do no harm: Stop sharing Idaho voter data with careless caretakers

An early voter in October 2016.
An early voter in October 2016. kgreen@idahostatesman.com

It was probably a good idea in 2006 for states to share data on voters. The mess over the contested presidential election, with its hanging chads and recount in Florida, had galvanized the country in 2000. Congress passed the Help America Vote reforms in 2002, affecting elections in 2004. Helping states police voter rolls was a worthy goal.

And it was still probably a good idea when then-Secretary of State Ben Ysursa signed Idaho up for a Kansas-operated collaboration in 2013. It checks for duplicate registrations in 30 participating states.

In 2013, identity theft and Russian hacking had yet to become everyday experiences or expressions.

Not today. Today the threats to democracy are more likely to be mass attacks engineered by foreign governments or other sophisticated hackers with an interest in invading or crashing entire systems. They don’t want to register a few illegal voters; they want to destroy the credibility and trustworthiness of democratic institutions.

We may actually be aiding the enemy by centralizing data that is otherwise housed in 50 different states and thousands of different counties. And we may be helping hackers get to unsecured servers with personal identification information.

That’s why Idaho needs to hit pause on sharing the personal data of voters until there’s a bulletproof system that offers more benefits than risks. And that’s why Secretary of State Lawerence Denney should pull Idaho out of the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck program hosted in Arkansas by the Kansas secretary of state.

To his credit, Denney said the details emerging about the careless handling of voter data by Crosscheck have sparked a re-evaluation of Idaho’s participation. Two other trustworthy Idaho voting experts — Ysursa and Deputy Ada County Clerk Phil McGrane — also urge Idaho’s withdrawal. This should be a quick and easy call.

There may come a day when the government can create and maintain a program that demonstrates safety and security, that doesn’t cause more problems than it solves.

The Crosscheck program is not that program.

Reporting by ProPublica and the Statesman shows that voter identity is protected sloppily at best. For a secretary of state who has made a name for himself raising the specter of voter fraud, and by chairing President Donald Trump’s voter fraud commission, Kansas’ Kris Kobach is not demonstrating himself to be a careful caretaker of voter data. The commission may yet prove a success if it highlights the hollowness of fears of fraud and draws attention to the need for a safe, secure voter verification system.

Another drawback to the Crosscheck program in which Idaho participates is that it does not include Oregon or Washington, the neighboring states where interstate duplication or fraud would be mostly likely to occur.

Not to fear. Idaho has proven systems in place for checking Idaho and federal sources for voters who die, who move, who become felons. It purges the rolls of voters who don’t vote in a four-year period. While those internal checks are reliable, they are not foolproof. But neither do they put at risk the Social Security or driver’s license numbers that Idaho voters entrust to elections officials.

Ysursa and Denney agree there is no reason to suspect that fraudulent voting in Idaho is anything other than an infrequent, minor issue. Idaho’s internal checks are working at keeping voter rolls current and fraud-free.

We subscribe to the electoral variant of the medical dictum “First do no harm.” Being careless with the confidential data of Idaho’s 800,000 voters violates that first principle. Idaho should stop sharing its data with careless caretakers.

Unsigned editorials represent the opinions of the Statesman Editorial Board.