ATLANTA (AP) — Election officials from states enrolled in a bipartisan effort to ensure accurate voter lists were meeting Friday to consider changes demanded by some Republicans, who are threatening to pull out as the system is being targeted by conspiracy theories tied to the 2020 election.
The Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, has a record of combating voter fraud by identifying those who have died or moved between states. Yet it also has drawn suspicion among conservatives after a series of online stories last year questioning its funding and purpose.
Earlier this month, Republican election officials from Florida, Missouri and West Virginia said they planned to withdraw from the group, joining Louisiana and Alabama. Former President Donald Trump, on social media, has called on every Republican-led state to leave, characterizing it as a "terrible Voter Registration System that ’pumps the rolls' for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up.”
On Friday, representatives from the group's member states were meeting remotely to discuss potential changes pushed by Republicans, which include dropping a requirement for members to mail notices to people who are eligible but not registered to vote. Currently, ERIC is comprised of 32 states and the District of Columbia, but that number will drop once Alabama, Florida, Missouri and West Virginia formally depart later this year.
The departures threatened to undermine a voluntary effort that has stood for more than a decade as the only national system that helps states identify voters who are not eligible to cast a ballot.
The system works by states sharing certain data through secure channels, allowing election officials to identify and remove people from voter rolls who have died or moved to other states. ERIC also helps states identify and ultimately prosecute people who vote in multiple states.
The system has been credited in Maryland with identifying some 66,000 potentially deceased voters and 778,000 people who may have moved out of state since 2013. In Georgia, officials said nearly 100,000 voters no longer eligible to vote in the state had been removed based on data provided by ERIC.
One conspiracy targeting the system claims billionaire philanthropist George Soros funded it. While the voter data-sharing system did receive initial funding from the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts, that money was separate from funding provided to Pew by a Soros-affiliated organization that went to an unrelated effort, said Shane Hamlin, ERIC's executive director. The system has since been funded through annual dues by member states.
It’s unclear whether even making the desired changes will prevent other Republican-led states from leaving. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose had threatened to withdraw if changes were not made, but Alaska election officials have said they are evaluating their participation and don't have a timetable for a decision.
In Texas, state election officials have announced plans to conduct their own “interstate voter registration crosscheck program,” although it’s unclear how they plan to do that and how effective such an effort would be, especially if it involves only a handful of states. Meanwhile, legislation has been introduced that would compel Texas to withdraw from ERIC.
Florida and Texas, with their combined 30.5 million active registered voters, would pose a considerable loss to the data-sharing effort.
With no national voter registration clearinghouse, ERIC is the only data-sharing program among the states. It was started in 2012 by seven states and was bipartisan from the beginning, with four of the founding states led at the time by Republicans.
In California, Kansas and New Hampshire, lawmakers have introduced bills that would enable their states to join it, according to the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks voting legislation. New York is another high-population state that does not belong to the system.
Another change sought by Republicans is the removal of what they characterize as partisan influences within ERIC. They have targeted David Becker, a former U.S. Justice Department lawyer who served in both the Clinton and Bush administrations. Becker, who was involved in developing the ERIC system at Pew, has held a non-voting seat on the board.
Some Republicans, including Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson, have defended Becker in a public letter, blasting attacks against him as disinformation and praising his work promoting “bipartisan and nonpartisan solutions to election integrity.”
Becker, who now leads the Center for Election Innovation and Research, said this week that he has informed ERIC that he will not accept re-nomination to the board.
“The states that remain in ERIC have bravely fought back against disinformation and election denial, and my hope is that they will continue to do so, and support their local election officials who rely upon the ERIC data, as we head into 2024," Becker said in a social media post this week.