Why Republican-led states keep walking away from a panel that verifies voter rolls

Matt Vasilogambros | Stateline.org (TNS)

Eight Republican-led states this year have quit an interstate cooperative that tries to maintain accurate voter registration rolls, and three more may join them — a move that election security experts say is fueled by conspiracy theories.

Earlier this month, Virginia’s top elections official said the state would become the latest to stop participating in the Electronic Registration Information Center, commonly called ERIC, because of concerns about the privacy and confidentiality of voter information. , among a list of other reasons.

Other states with Republican-led legislatures could soon leave ERIC, including Alaska, Texas and Wisconsin, where lawmakers may propose or have already introduced legislation to leave the cooperative. Republican lawmakers from North Carolina and Oklahoma have also proposed legislation that would prevent their states from joining ERIC.

Election security experts worry the move is part of a larger trend away from nonpartisan election administration that could lead to inaccurate voter databases.

To prevent voter fraud, the nonprofit compares voter registration data from participating states with federal death and postal records to help states purge voter rolls of people who may have moved or died. Participating states must also send postcards to residents who are eligible to vote but are not registered.

It’s a troubling continuation of a trend we’ve seen of a breakdown in bipartisan consensus on good election management. —Alice Clapman, Brennan Center for Justice

Until this year, ERIC was seen as one of the least controversial election programs in the country, with participation from a mix of red and blue states and a mission not only to keep voter rolls clean (a common demand of states led by Republicans), but also to encourage voter registration (a priority for Democrats).

But Republican attitudes toward the program have shifted over the past year with the rise of misinformation surrounding the country’s election systems, fueled by criticism from former President Donald Trump and his allies. Trump falsely claimed that ERIC “‘serves the Democrats’ and does nothing to clean them up.”

The eight states that left the group this year didn’t entirely copy Trump’s language, but complained about his efforts to help register new voters and rigid internal rules that make it difficult to change status.

“In short, ERIC’s mandate has expanded beyond its original intent — to improve the accuracy of voter rolls,” Virginia Election Commissioner Susan Beals wrote in a May 11 letter to ERIC.

Beals, who was appointed by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, said the state would seek information-sharing agreements with neighboring states in a “non-political manner.” Virginia was one of seven founding members of ERIC when it launched in 2012, backed by then-Gov. Bob McDonnell, a Republican.

Another reason Beals cites for leaving ERIC is the “increasing and uncertain costs” associated with the departures of seven other states that left the cooperative this year: Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia. Twenty-five other states are still in ERIC, which is funded by member state fees.

In an open letter in March, Shane Hamlin, the organization’s executive director, addressed the “misinformation” surrounding ERIC and defended its voter data security measures.

“ERIC is never connected to any state’s voter registration system,” he wrote. “Members retain complete control over their voter rolls and use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws.”

The departures have rattled many in the electoral field, who say an accurate voter registry is a moving target because voters move, come of age and die every day.

Alice Clapman, senior counsel in the voting rights program at the nonprofit Brennan Center for Justice, said it was “extremely hypocritical” for Republican leaders who say they want to fight voter fraud to walk away from a program that helps prevent it by keeping accurate voter lists.

“I’m worried about it,” she said. “It’s a troubling continuation of a trend we’ve seen of a breakdown of the bipartisan consensus on good election management.”

When Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft joined ERIC in 2018, he thought it would be a good way to make elections safer and more credible by tracking multistate voter fraud. But the Republican soon developed concerns about the organization’s mandate that states reach out to residents who are not registered to vote, which he said was “a waste of money” and could be viewed as partisan.

“I’m harassing people who have already said ‘No,'” he said in an interview with Stateline. “Why am I involved in this? I’m going to make it easier to sign up and if there’s a problem with that system, I’m going to listen and we’re going to make it better.”

Ashcroft said he had advocated for months for systemic changes to ERIC to no avail, including advocating for the removal of a “hyperpartisan individual” from the organization’s board, alluding to David Becker, who helped found ERIC and was a non-executive member. vote.

Becker, who is now the executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Election Research and Innovation, a nonprofit that supports local election officials nationwide, has been one of the nation’s most vocal critics of the election misinformation and denial that has spread since Trump falsely claimed that the 2020. presidential election was stolen. Becker left ERIC in March, citing a heavy personal workload.

Becker was disappointed to see ERIC lose states.

“It’s unfortunate that some states are succumbing to this ongoing onslaught of misinformation,” he told Stateline as he left ERIC. “If people are going to make decisions based on politics, there’s really nothing you can do to stop them.”

Some Republicans have defended ERIC’s usefulness, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, who said in March that statements prioritizing “the real integrity of elections over politics will remain in ERIC,” giving voters lists that are more accurate than those states that left. .

In California, a Democratic-sponsored proposal to join ERIC, currently making its way through state Assembly committees, enjoys bipartisan support.

ERIC will continue to be a useful tool for the remaining states, especially if California joins, said Pamela Smith, president and chief executive of the nonprofit Verified Voting, noting that the state represents one-tenth of the nation’s voters.

“When the bill goes through the process, it will have a considerable impact given the amount of data involved,” she said, “making up for a lot of the lost data from states that have recently left.”


Stateline is part of The editorial office of the Statesa national nonprofit news organization focused on state politics.

©2023 State Newsroom. Visit at stateline.org. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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