Maintaining the integrity of our elections is core to our democracy

As the first-in-the-nation primary state, with the eyes of the country upon us, ensuring that New Hampshire’s elections are fair and secure could not be more important. As chair of the Senate Election Law Committee, I am committed to proposing and advancing common-sense, practical legislation that will ensure our state is running the most secure and modern elections possible.

Unfortunately, our state is currently relying on a flawed program to maintain accurate voter rolls – the Interstate Crosscheck System. In 2016, New Hampshire entered the Interstate Crosscheck Program (“Crosscheck”) to help keep our voter rolls accurate. Crosscheck was created in 2005 by then-Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thornburgh, along with officials from Nebraska, Missouri and Iowa, with a modest goal of eliminating double registrations from voter rolls. Such registrations most often happen after people move to nearby states and register at their new addresses. While it was a laudable original goal, since New Hampshire entered the program it has become apparent that the program is ineffective and vulnerable to nefarious outside actors.

While we all agree that maintaining the integrity of our elections is core to our democracy, Crosscheck does not accomplish that goal and only serves to purge and disqualify eligible voters while leaving Granite Staters’ voter records vulnerable to hacking, tampering and theft.

Individualized data provided to Crosscheck is hosted on an “unsecure server” that is unencrypted, vulnerable and outdated. Security experts have said that Crosscheck’s server can be breached by a “novice hacker.” Reinforcing this, Crosscheck’s system appears to have been anonymously accessed without a password. These known vulnerabilities have resulted in many states leaving the program, like Colorado, Illinois, Kentucky and Massachusetts and it should raise serious concerns for Granite Staters, and beg the question of why we are still participating in this program.

But there is a better, more reliable and secure option for New Hampshire – the Electronic Registration Information Center, also known as ERIC. ERIC – which our state would be able to enter into if Gov. Chris Sununu signs HB 315 – is a system used by more than half the states in the country with a mission to help state and local election officials improve the accuracy of their voter rolls, register eligible citizens, reduce costs, identify possible cases of improper voting and improve efficiencies in the voting process.

ERIC states gain access to an advanced tool to analyze their voter rolls and match data against records from other states and some federal agencies. This allows state election officials to better recognize registrations that may need updating or cancellation and to identify and contact eligible citizens who have not registered to vote.

Just this month, Georgia and Texas, both with Republican governors and Republican secretaries of state, decided to enter into ERIC. The Georgia elections director lauded their entry into the program saying, “In addition to enhancing the accuracy of our voter rolls, ERIC will help our office better identify, contact and offer eligible but unregistered citizens the opportunity to register to vote.”

We heard testimony from the secretary of state’s office that it took almost a year to sort through and analyze the data from the 2016 election at an approximate cost of $150,000. Out of 90,000 duplicate matches there were approximately five cases of improper voting found, and the 2018 election voting data has yet to be reviewed. ERIC could identify these potential cases of improper voting with a report that can be generated in a single day because of the additional data points used in ERIC.

ERIC is a win-win for voters, election administrators and the state budget. Efficient and effective data matching and cleaner voter rolls will result in less returned mail and shorter lines at polling places. ERIC also will save New Hampshire valuable taxpayer dollars by using resources such as the Social Security death index and data from the U.S. Post Office that states now buy on their own. A Washington state audit of the ERIC system in 2014 found statistically no cases in which people who were legally registered were falsely flagged as ineligible and also identified more ineligible voters.

Rhode Island and Connecticut already are members of ERIC, and Massachusetts is set to join the program this year. Since most cases of double registrations or possible improper voting occur in our region, ERIC has access to the most relevant data.

By refusing to join ERIC and relying on the deeply flawed and unreliable Crosscheck system, New Hampshire – a state that is supposed to be first-in-the-nation – is falling behind when it comes to election administration and security.

New Hampshire has a long and proud history of engagement in the democratic process. We must make sure that this tradition continues by running the best elections in the country. Elections that are as secure and fair as possible must be a priority for all lawmakers and election officials in the Granite State and passing HB 315 to join ERIC is a critical step in the right direction.

Sen. Melanie Levesque is a Democrat from Brookline.