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After a setback, a GOP effort to pull Texas out of a multi-state program to clean voter rolls could move forward

The bill forcing a withdrawal from ERIC, crafted by right-wing voter fraud activists, nearly died this week in the state House of Representatives. Now it’s back, and awaits an uncertain vote.

A long line of people wraps around a parking lot
Voters wait in line to cast their ballots on Election Day at the Northwest Branch Library in Fort Worth on November 8, 2022. (Shelby Tauber for The Texas Tribune)

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization reporting on voting access and election administration across the U.S.

A Texas House Democrat used procedural tactics this week to delay a vote on legislation pushed by right-wing believers in voter fraud and based on an election conspiracy theory, though the measure could yet move forward.

Senate Bill 1070 was set to allow Texas to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, also known as ERIC, a multistate coalition used by dozens of states for flagging duplicate voter registrations and cleaning voter rolls. 

The ERIC program, considered by election administration experts across the country as the best tool for preventing double-voting across state lines, has been a target of viral conspiracy theories spread since early last year by a fringe conservative publication, the Gateway Pundit. The nonpartisan program compares voter registration rolls from all its member states, along with other data, to flag voters who have died, moved away or registered elsewhere, so that states can remove outdated registrations from their rolls. 

Right-wing activists and conservative media falsely say the program is led by left-wing advocates, that its funding comes from Democratic megadonor George Soros, and that it shares voters’ private data with outside groups seeking to give Democrats an advantage, among other allegations. Since last year, eight Republican-run member states — most recently Virginia, on Friday — have announced withdrawals from the program, apparently due to political pressure.

The Texas bill’s surprising setback came after the legislation had been in the works for more than a year and had picked up momentum through both chambers. The bill’s House sponsor, state Rep. Jacey Jetton, a Republican, asked Tuesday to delay a vote on it until after the regular session ends later this month following a point of order – a procedural tactic used to delay or kill legislation– that was raised by state Rep. Mihaela Plesa, D-Dallas. 

On Wednesday, after a series of procedural moves, the bill was sent back to the House Elections Committee, which again approved it hours after it was received. 

The bill is now headed back to the House chamber to be considered for a vote. The Texas Legislature is scheduled to end May 29.

Neither Jetton nor the bill’s Senate author, Republican state Sen. Bryan Hughes, responded to requests for comment. 

In Texas, the movement against ERIC was led by members of the Texas Republican Party in April 2022. Party Vice Chair Dana Myers and Alan Vera, a longtime voter fraud activist and then the Harris County GOP ballot security chair, led the “ERIC task force.” In January, they announced they had drafted a bill and submitted it to Hughes’ staff; he filed Senate Bill 1070 the following month. (Vera died May 4 at the Texas Capitol moments before he was set to testify on election legislation.)

Plesa’s point of order was based on the grounds that the bill analysis, documents filed to explain the purpose and costs associated with legislation, was “materially misleading.” 

Plesa told Votebeat she found language in the bill analysis to be vague and “without merit,” singling out a sentence that says “some say the costs associated with ERIC participation have outweighed the benefits.” 

“Who is saying this? What costs? This statement is not a reasonable inference based on other verified statements,” Plesa said. “We’re running safe and secure elections in the state of Texas, and it’s very concerning to me that we’re looking at removing our state from this database program and this is coming on the heels of so many other red states leaving this program.” 

Plesa said Democrats in the House are prepared to fight attempts to resurrect the ERIC legislation. 

“We’ve just got to keep our good eyes on [the bills] and make sure that any reconsideration of this bill is met with objection, and that we’re ready to call more points of order and to get them on record as to what exactly they’re trying to do with removing the state of Texas from ERIC,” she said. 

Texas law requires the state to participate in a multistate information-sharing program to clean its voter rolls. The state budgets $1.5 million annually for costs associated with ERIC: about $115,000 for its membership dues and the rest for postage, mailing, and printing costs to send notices to residents whom ERIC identifies as eligible voters who are not yet registered, an effort the program requires of its member states. 

In March, after Hughes filed his bill, the Texas secretary of state’s office announced it was taking steps to develop the state’s own program. The state’s former elections director, Keith Ingram, was reassigned to “develop and manage” the new system. Votebeat reported that such an effort could stall or take years to put together. Election and voter registration experts say a viable alternative to ERIC does not exist.

Two weeks ago, Hughes told members of the GOP, including those on the ERIC task force, that the development effort by the secretary of state’s office was “moving pretty fast” and that he was optimistic the legislation would pass.

“But even before that takes effect Sept. 1, even before that, we may already have the new Texas system in place,” he said during a weekly Zoom call.

Alicia Pierce, a spokesperson for the Texas secretary of state, declined to comment on Hughes’ characterization of the timeline. Pierce said Friday that the office was ready to comply if the proposal becomes law. 

A recent poll conducted for Secure Democracy, a nonprofit that advocates for election and voting access policy, by Chris Perkins, a Texas-based researcher with the political polling and research company Ragnar, found that Republican voters in Texas support the program. 

Researchers surveyed 750 Republican primary voters across the state in April and found that 84% of Texas Republican voters want Texas to remain a member of ERIC to keep voter rolls clean.

Natalia Contreras is a reporter for Votebeat and covers election administration and voting access in partnership with The Texas Tribune. Contact Natalia at ncontreras@votebeat.org.

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