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EagleAI Isn’t So Intelligent

Former Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell’s bogus voter verification system is an attack on elections.

September 8, 2023
voting machine
Kamil Krzaczynski/Getty

You’re read­ing The Brief­ing, Michael Wald­­­­­man’s weekly news­­­­­­­­­let­ter. Click here to receive it every week in your inbox.

Let us introduce you to a victim of the lunacy of today’s politics: ERIC. 

The Electronic Registration Information Center was a model of bipartisan cooperation for more than a decade. Founded jointly by Republican- and Democratic-dominated states, ERIC helped update voter rolls to make sure people were not registered in two states, for example. It contributed to the removal of millions of ineligible voters from the rolls and helped millions of eligible citizens to sign up. When Florida joined the collaborative in 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the move would ensure “cleaner and more accurate voter registration rolls.” Iowa’s Republican secretary of state called the system a “godsend.” ERIC was blandly noncontroversial.

Until last year, that is, when the fringe website Gateway Pundit began to insist that ERIC was an incubator for misconduct. Evidence? None. Now nine Republican-run states have withdrawn from the system — Alabama, Iowa, Florida, Louisiana,Missouri, Ohio, Texas, Virginia, and West Virginia. Donald Trump piled on, claiming ERIC “pumps the rolls” for Democrats. The withdrawals were a major loss for safe and secure elections, because the information that was shared between states helped everyone. The departures weakened the entire system. Ironically, conspiracy theories about double voting are undermining one key institution that prevents fraud.

And the story just got worse. A group of prominent election deniers have announced an inferior replacement for ERIC: the EagleAI NETwork. It isn’t just an affront to proper capitalization — it’s an attack on voters.

At first glance, EagleAI roughly resembles ERIC. Both systems extract information from databases to identify inconsistencies, such as voters who may have moved or died. But, as my colleagues Andrew Garber and Alice Clapman explain, the similarities end there. ERIC uses confidential data and sophisticated, AI-assisted matching technology to supply election officials with a list of voters to investigate. The professionals take it from there, reaching out to voters to confirm that they remain eligible.

EagleAI is worse in every way. It uses inferior technology to analyze less reliable data. It’s limited to purely public sources, such as the National Change of Address Database. (Your voter registration could be questioned because you went on vacation and forwarded your mail.) Once the system finds what it regards as an inconsistency, it flags that voter registration. 

Here comes the worst part. Rather than delivering information to election officials, EagleAI invites ordinary citizens to scour its list of flagged voter registrations. The amateur sleuths can then hunt down any suggestion of ineligibility, such as a social media post, and challenge a voter’s registration with a couple of clicks. We know that they do little to verify information before crying “fraud.”

Local election administration offices, which are already stretched paper thin, will be inundated with baseless challenges. They simply don’t have the resources to deal with these waves of make-work. Individual voters are intimidated when they receive baseless warnings about their eligibility out of the blue. And news of these mass challenges undermines faith in the system, even if they are overwhelmingly without merit.

Georgia shows the problem with mass challenges of supposedly fishy voters. One activist group there has challenged tens of thousands of voter registrations based on little more than wishful thinking. County boards of elections rejected nearly all the challenges, but at a massive cost of time and energy. That time could be spent doing outreach to eligible voters.

Former Trump lawyer Cleta Mitchell was on the infamous call to pressure Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger to “find” extra votes, the call that is the subject of two indictments. Mitchell is one of the driving forces behind EagleAI. No surprise there. EagleAI isn’t about strengthening election integrity or maintaining clean voter rolls. It’s another attempt to make elections vulnerable to manipulation and voter suppression.