EDITORIAL: Cross check: Linking databases can help maintain files more current

Elections offices in the Rio Grande Valley and across the country report record numbers of new voter registrations ahead of the 2020 presidential and congressional elections.

As the database of registered voters grows, so grows the challenge of keeping information current and accurate. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office has tried twice in recent years to identify and purge voter registration accounts, with disastrous results.

Twenty states and the District of Columbia have addressed the need to keep files current and accurate by investing in automated verification and registration systems; the state of Texas should look into it.

AVR is a software system that cross-matches state residents’ personal records to keep them consistent. For example, the network would link voter information with driver’s license and other records. When a person changes an address or name on a driver’s license after a move, marriage or name change, the information can update linked records or flag them for verification.

Age, residency, citizenship status and other information are checked to verify that the person actually is eligible to vote. A notice of death, move outside the state or other change that affects eligibility automatically would purge the voting roll and send a notice to the person’s mailing address, to guard against erroneous purges.

Such automatic changes address the possibility that a person might forget to update voter or other records when such a life change occurs.

Advocates say that after the initial software investment, the system saves money by making changes and purges automatic and reducing the need for personnel dedicated to those tasks.

It’s seen as a prime opportunity to reduce voter fraud, which was the stated target of Texas voter roll purges in 2012 and again last year. County elections offices are still working to add wrongly purged voters back into the system after a federal appeals judge ordered that the purge be stopped.

The cross-verification inherent in the system addresses concerns over hacked elections systems, since false records would have no cross-references to match or would conflict with existing records.

The need for such systems has been voiced for years, such as linking immigration and Social Security records or crime histories across states, etc.: it keeps all records current while reducing the chance of fraud or accidental change in any one record. This also would reduce the chance that a voter might be unable to cast a ballot because an erroneous change or purge wasn’t discovered until the person went to the polls.

It’s unfortunate that our goal of free, independent and honest elections has been compromised by surreptitious efforts to influence the outcomes. It’s equally unfortunate that efforts to update Texas voter lists have been mired in allegations of impropriety, and that the actual purges were done so badly. State officials should look into records management systems that could offer improvements or reduce the possibility of error or manipulation. They should contact states that have AVR, and make the investment if it appears worthwhile.