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A Dead-Simple Algorithm Reveals the True Toll of Voter Id Laws

By Wired

January 5, 2018

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Researchers at Tufts and Harvard universities have demonstrated it is possible to match individuals across government databases with nearly 100-percent accuracy, using a few basic identifiers such as a name, birth date, and address.

The researchers developed an algorithm that could be used as the basis for a system courts can understand when considering cases concerning allegedly discriminatory voter ID laws. They found only one in 2.7 billion individuals have the same zip code, gender, birth date, and last name, making those combined details a very accurate indicator of identity.

However, government records often contain typos, incomplete fields, and other mistakes, so the algorithm scanned Texas' voter rolls and compared it to the federal list of driver licenses, state IDs, and other forms of acceptable identification.

The researchers found 98% of the records that could be matched using Social Security numbers also could be matched using any three of the key identifiers.

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