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States’ withdrawals weaken ERIC and show conspiracy theories taking deep root

Election integrity activists’ unfounded claims undermining a program that helps state officials clean voter rolls.

Portrait of a brown-haired man with a red tie and dark suit.
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft testifying at the U.S. Capitol in 2018.  (Tom Williams / CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images)

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S. A version of this post was originally distributed in Votebeat’s weekly newsletter. 

Good morning, 

A campaign of unfounded conspiracy theories against a multistate coalition that aids in cleaning voter rolls came to a head this week as three Republican-led states announced they would withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. 

The decision by West Virginia, Florida, and Missouri to follow Louisiana and Alabama out of ERIC weakens the group, which functions as a clearinghouse for states to compare data and ensure only eligible voters remain on their rolls. 

The process is strengthened by having more states contribute to the effort, which means that ironically, election integrity activists are undercutting one of the strongest safeguards against voter fraud election officials have available. 

The campaign against ERIC has involved baseless allegations the group is funded by Democratic megadonor George Soros. It isn’t, and the charge is instead based on an attenuated fact chain. Opponents of the program, which is hailed by a bipartisan group of experts and election officials who vouch for its effectiveness, also say it has a leftist agenda, but offer little to no evidence. Republican election officials are some of the program’s staunchest defenders.

For more than a year, Votebeat has written extensively about the campaign against ERIC, which is an effective technological tool for state officials who use it, but the program doesn’t control state voter rolls. Withdrawing from it will leave states with fewer tools to uncover voters who have moved or died and should no longer be on the rolls, creating more opportunities for the voter fraud that critics say they are worried about. The program’s diminished membership also will result in less outreach to eligible voters who haven’t yet registered. 

This week, Votebeat Texas reporter Natalia Contreras dove deeply into the campaign against ERIC in Texas, a state that is still a member of ERIC — but for how much longer? Contreras found a lengthy campaign by activists systematically targeting Texas’ participation in the program, even though state officials have attempted to reassure them about its security and usefulness. Similar campaigns are underway in other states. 

The truth is, ERIC is run — and funded — by member states. It was started by a bipartisan group of state officials and received early funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts, a national nonpartisan nonprofit.

If you’re looking for reliable information, start with Votebeat’s past coverage: 

Back Then

The Texas Legislature in 2015 required that Texas become part of a multistate voter registration data sharing program. Back then, the only such program was called “Crosscheck.” It had a lot of problems. Run jointly by the secretaries of state for Kansas and Arkansas, it matched voter rolls by first name, last name, and birth date. Turns out, that’s not at all accurate enough to produce solid matches. In addition, they were swapping passwords over plain text email, and states were handing out Social Security numbers to random members of the public. Oops! Anyway, Crosscheck doesn’t exist anymore. What does that leave? ERIC. That’s it. And they don’t send passwords over email. 

New From Votebeat

From Votebeat Arizona: Why Arizona’s attorney general is suing Cochise County for giving its recorder control over elections

From Votebeat Pennsylvania: Republican senator’s record on elections has Democrats, voting advocates worried passing reform will be difficult

From Votebeat Texas: Conspiracy theory whirlwind threatens to blow Texas out of national program that keeps voter rolls updated

In Other Voting News

  • A new tranche of messages released as part of Dominion Voting Systems’ defamation lawsuit against Fox News shows more extensively that many inside the network doubted claims of voter fraud or malfeasance during the 2020 presidential election but continued to air such claims, the New York Times reported
  • As part of a censure agreement in Colorado, Jenna Ellis, a lawyer who represented former President Donald Trump after the 2020 election, admitted she knowingly misrepresented facts when making public claims about voter fraud leading to Trump’s defeat in the election. Her admissions were made to resolve professional misconduct claims brought by the bar association, the New York Times reported.
  • In a majority of 10 cases where local officials declined to certify 2022 election results, authorities ultimately took no punitive action, ProPublica reported.
  • Law enforcement officers parsed through sometimes unclear election laws in policing drop box observers in Arizona, measuring their distance from drop boxes and defusing tension with humor, according to new video footage obtained by the Washington Post.

Carrie Levine is Votebeat’s story editor and is based in Washington, D.C. She edits and frequently writes Votebeat’s national newsletter. Contact Carrie at clevine@votebeat.org.

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