UPDATE: As of August 10, 2023, Ohio, Texas, and Virginia have also withdrawn from the partnership.
This month, three states announced they’re withdrawing from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a consortium that improves the accuracy of state voter rolls by sharing information among its member states. The move by Florida, Missouri, and West Virginia is a victory for disinformation and a loss for good election administration.
Louisiana and Alabama also recently left the nonprofit group, better known as ERIC. Ohio has threatened to follow suit, and there are signs that states including Texas and Wisconsin may do the same. All are controlled by Republicans.
ERIC has only recently become a partisan issue. The organization was founded over a decade ago by seven states — Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, and Washington — four of which were Republican-run. It collects data from state sources, such as election boards and departments of motor vehicles, along with federal data on deaths and changes of address. It then produces reports for participating state election officials that they can use to update their voter rolls, remove ineligible voters, investigate rare cases of potentially illegal voting, and help eligible but unregistered Americans complete their voter registration. Currently, 28 states and Washington, DC, are members.
To date, the group has helped states identify millions of registrants who should be taken off the rolls because they moved or died, and it has facilitated millions of new registrations of eligible voters. By using sophisticated matching technology and data from various federal and state sources, ERIC allows for more precise matching than what states can do on their own using national data sets like the National Change of Address registry, reducing the risk that valid registrants will be purged. It makes it easier to catch the rare instances of fraud. Additionally, it improves civic participation by allowing states to identify and provide information to citizens who are eligible to vote but are currently unregistered.
This interstate cooperation would seem to be a no-brainer for anyone looking to clear the names of ineligible individuals from the voter rolls. And indeed, until recently, ERIC was widely praised by Republicans and Democrats alike. When Florida joined the group three and a half years ago, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) said he was doing so “to enhance the security and integrity of Florida’s elections,” adding that the move would “lead to cleaner and more accurate voter registration rolls.” He also praised the fact that registering new eligible voters identified by ERIC “will increase voter participation in our elections.” Just weeks ago, a January report from the Florida Department of State Office of Election Crimes and Security said it had used the group’s data to identify hundreds of voters who appeared to have voted in Florida and in another ERIC member state in the same election.
Last month, the GOP secretary of state of Iowa described ERIC as a “godsend,” and the GOP Ohio secretary of state said of ERIC, “It is one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have when it comes to actually catching people that try to vote in multiple states, when it comes to maintaining the accuracy of our voter rolls by removing those that move out of state.” Indeed, while the current Alabama secretary of state is fulfilling a campaign promise to leave the group, his Republican predecessor firmly supported the organization.
Unfortunately, since last year, ERIC has come under baseless attacks from the right. Although ERIC requires outreach to all unregistered-but-eligible voters, former President Trump has accused it of “pump[ing] the rolls” for Democrats, and states like Ohio and Missouri have objected to this outreach as unnecessary. The far-right media also has painted the group’s origins as questionable because it was founded by state election officials with financial assistance from the Pew Foundation. Our election systems are chronically underfunded, and private foundations have stepped up in recent years to shore them up. ERIC is currently owned, funded, and managed by the participating states, each of which has a vote on the board of directors. Finally, ERIC has been attacked for having “partisan” nonstate staff, even though only state members can vote on policies.
States that are going along with these fringe attacks have given conflicting and inaccurate reasons for pulling out of ERIC. While Missouri objected to ERIC’s restrictions on states’ use of data as excessive, Florida and Alabama stated they were leaving because the group does not protect data privacy enough. At any rate, the participating states had agreed on safeguards to protect data and ensure its proper and limited use, including limits on the data collected, anonymization of sensitive data such as social security or driver’s license numbers before it leaves state control, secure storage, audit logs that track how data is used, and restrictions on state use. States leaving the organization also have echoed far-right media complaints of “partisan actors,” again without explaining how any nonstate actors could influence policy when only state participants have a vote.
Fortunately, some Republicans are defending ERIC. In response to the recent news of some states’ exit, the bipartisan group Issue One put forward a statement from Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger saying, “Systems like ERIC are an important tool for election administrators . . . States that prioritize best practices and actual election integrity over politics are going to stay in ERIC and have clearer and more accurate voter rolls than those that choose to leave.”
Similarly, former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson said, “There’s broad bipartisan agreement by state and local election officials that this system works and has improved our elections over the last decade. I am deeply troubled to see politics and disinformation get in the way of best practices.”
And while some lawmakers in Texas are advocating for the state to withdraw from ERIC, the secretary of state’s spokesperson just acknowledged that he was “not currently aware of any system comparable to ERIC” in the benefits it offers states.
As state officials and lawmakers follow this ongoing dispute and consider their next steps, it’s important to stay clear on the facts: ERIC is a bipartisan initiative that has made state voter registration lists more accurate, allowed for the registration of millions of eligible voters, and made it easier to detect rare instances of fraud. The more states participate in this collaboration, the more accurate our voter rolls will be.
Correction: A previous version of this piece stated that 29 states and Washington, DC, are ERIC members. It has been updated to reflect that 28 states and Washington, DC, are part of ERIC.