GOP States Quit A Bipartisan Group After False Attacks — And Now They’re Struggling

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ERIC (Electronic Registration Information Center) has been working in relative anonymity for years. ERIC had 34 member states at its peak, including some of the most important presidential battlegrounds. They shared voter information in a central exchange. The program revealed that some voters were registered in more than one state, while others were unregistered but still eligible to vote. It also showed evidence of double voting. The system was appealing to both Republicans as well as Democrats. It offered data that would help to keep voter lists up to date and ease the registration process for eligible voters. Then came the attacks from the far right. Gateway Pundit falsely claimed that ERIC was a George Soros funded effort to aid Democrats in January of last year. Louisiana’s secretary announced his decision to withdraw from ERIC within days. Citing “media reports on potential questionable funding”, among other reasons. He became the first ex-member of ERIC in its decade-long history. In January of this year, Alabama also followed suit. Donald Trump described ERIC as a “terrible Voter Registration System” that “pumps up the rolls” for Democrats, but does nothing to clean these up. On March 22, Missouri, Florida, and West Virginia announced they were leaving. Texas announced its exit in July after Ohio, Iowa, and Virginia. The resignation of Texas will take effect in the next month. As the presidential election of 2024 approaches, former ERIC members struggle to replace the organization.

On Friday, West Virginia and Ohio announced data-sharing deals with Florida, Virginia, and West Virginia. HuffPost reviewed several of these agreements and found that they fell far short of ERIC’s capabilities. Some secretaries admit that it is difficult to replace an organization with multiple states on their own.

“There are still some limitations because we’re not getting other states’ data,” Jay Ashcroft (R), Missouri’s secretary of state who pulled his state from ERIC in March, told HuffPost in an interview, referring to the fact that non-ERIC-members can’t automatically check their voter rolls against ERIC’s remaining 25 member states.

Ashcroft, now running for the Republican nomination for governor of Missouri, pointed out that certain data-sharing was optional even within ERIC — namely, data concerning voters’ participation in elections, which can help uncover double-voting. There is, however, no collective support or resources available for states that have left. This has led to criticism by observers who are concerned with election integrity. David Becker who founded ERIC, and was a member of the board without voting privileges until March, said that it is disappointing that states have left a tool which helped them secure elections. “And I think this is consistent with a larger theme that I’ve seen, which is that a lot of the anti-democratic forces out there are dismantling the infrastructure of election security while claiming to secure elections.”

Aetry Jones, left, and Caerry Rigbon tape up a voter registration sign on Dallas City Hall before a Juneteenth 2020 celebration in Dallas on June 19, 2020.

LM Otero, File via Associated Press

The trouble comes mostly in the type of information ERIC works with — including, crucially, state-by-state driver’s license records and other sensitive information. In contrast, replacement efforts are mostly dealing in more accessible data like the Postal Service’s change-of-address database, which can lead to numerous “false positives” that can bog election offices down — just imagine two voters named “John Smith” who happen to have the same birthday, then project that across

more than

150 million voters nationwide.

The irony of the nine states’ departure from ERIC was their enthusiasm and praise for the organization while they were members. DeSantis called ERIC in 2019 “the right thing for our state,” while Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, (R),

told the NPR

ERIC is “a godsend”, a month

before he announced

Iowa’s departure from ERIC.

As The Bulwark observed in May, “To the GOP of yore — of, say, the Tea Party era — this all sounded like a dream: a privately funded nonprofit getting states to cooperate in an effective way for a

de minimis amount of money to cut down on voter fraud before it even happens.” In Florida, a man was arrested for double voting on the same day DeSantis-appointed Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R) announced that Florida had “lost confidence in ERIC” and would be leaving the organization. Pinellas County’s supervisor of elections

said the alleged crime was uncovered “because of Florida’s relationship with ERIC.” The defendant, Phillip French, has pleaded not guilty.Virginia, a founding ERIC member state and the other location French is alleged to have voted, announced its departure from ERIC a few months after the arrest.Similarly, five months after Ohio announced its departure from ERIC, a judge found a Trump donor, James Saunders, guilty of double-voting in that state and Florida in 2020 and 2022. State officials caught Saunders using ERIC data, the Ohio Capital-Journal reported

.The exodus from ERIC began last January with the false claim from Gateway Pundit that money from conservative bogeyman George Soros was used to fund ERIC and that Soros had “founded” the group. Both Becker and ERIC’s executive director, Shane Hamlin, have refuted

the claims. ERIC was founded more than a ten-year ago, with the help of Pew Charitable Trusts

where Becker led the elections program. Since then, it has been funded through member state dues. Yet, Gateway Pundit was influential – it was the source most often cited in menacing emails sent to election officials in 2021, according to Reuters

– and attacks spread. As NPR, VoteBeat and other outlets have detailed, Republican secretaries of state started to feel the heat. “You can understand how someone who is out there trying to prove their conservative credentials in a primary — which is what you are doing — would read this article and think, ‘OK that thing is bad. Let’s get out of it’,” Ohio Secretary of state Frank LaRose, (R) told

NPRin February. “But hopefully over time the noise about it starts to fade, and other States look to get into it.”A few months later, LaRose, who in July announced his bid to be Ohio’s senatorial nominee for 2024, announced Ohio’s withdrawal from ERIC. Frank LaRose, Ohio Secretary of State, spoke on the third of the CPAC Washington, D.C., Conference at Gaylord National Harbor Resort & Convention. Lev Radin/Pacific Press/LightRocket by Getty ImagesWhile Republican secretaries of states — and in Texas, Republican legislators — made the decision for nine former ERIC state to leave the compact. The departures had a major impact on county officials who are responsible for maintaining voter lists. The state joined ERIC in March under Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) in 2019, after much urging from county officials trying to keep track of people moving in and out of the state, and those same officials were “blindsided” by the departure, the Sun Sentinel editorial board reported.Several election officials who removed their states from ERIC said they could do the job independently.A spokesperson for Louisiana’s Secretary of State, Kyle Ardoin (R), told HuffPost, “We have developed our own interim process using Louisiana-based, as well as national, data sources to achieve many of the report-based elements of ERIC.” “We are internally going through data ourselves,” Ashcroft said of Missouri. Ashcroft said that Missouri was analyzing data internally. The agreement only includes general information, like voter addresses, registration dates and jurisdictions. ERIC states share DMV records to allow for better matching and less false positives. According to documents shared by the West Virginia Secretary’s Office with HuffPost, West Virginia has signed similar agreements with Florida, Virginia and Tennessee. Another deal with Tennessee is “near” according to HuffPost. Landon Palmer, the spokesperson for the office said that West Virginia will eventually use DMV information from the American Association of Motor Vehicle Administrators “State to State Verification Service” which, according to Palmer, provides the same data to its members as ERIC. Palmer also said that the agreements are not meant to replace ERIC’s work on list maintenance, but rather identify illegal voting. Allen’s office issued a press release referring to AVID as a “replacement for ERIC.” In a press release, Allen’s office referred AVID to as a “replacement” for ERIC.

Virginia Department of Elections spokeswoman told HuffPost While states can purchase certain data like the Postal Service’s change of address files and Social Security death records for a fee, the cost is included in ERIC’s membership fees. Before ERIC, similar efforts at creating an inter-state election integrity system ran into data quality issues and privacy lawsuits, and none survived.[Gateway Pundit]States who’ve remained in ERIC maintain it’s the best option available for keeping voter rolls clean and identifying eligible but unregistered voters. Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger (R), a rare Republican who’s forcefully pushed back against Trump’s election lies, told HuffPost in a statement, “Georgia’s membership in ERIC, which began in 2019, has provided data to cancel over 125,000 outdated voter records, has moved more than 300,000 records to Inactive status, and ERIC is still the best available tool for effective voter list maintenance.”“I just think it’s going to be extremely difficult to stand up anything that has the reach, quality or security of ERIC,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (D). “It’s a very expensive thing to do, it’s a complex thing to do, so there are a lot of barriers facing anyone else trying to do it in a meaningful way.”

And Ellen Lyon, deputy director of the Pennsylvania Department of State, told HuffPost in an email that despite “baseless conspiracy theories and disinformation,” the department “believes strongly in the value of the data we receive and remains committed to ERIC.”“I just think it’s going to be extremely difficult to stand up anything that has the reach, quality or security of ERIC.”– Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon

Frank LaRose, Ohio secretary of state, speaks on the third day of the CPAC (Conservative Political Action Conference) Washington, D.C., conference at Gaylord National Harbor Resort & Convention.
After the Gateway Pundit attacks, multiple Republican secretaries of state who’d later leave ERIC began pushing for changes to ERIC’s rules, like eliminating non-voting board member seats like Becker’s, making the sharing of election participation information compulsory, and most importantly, loosening the requirement for states to contact eligible-but-unregistered voters — what Gateway Pundit had referred to as “essentially a left-wing voter registration drive.”

Ashcroft, in particular, had switched sides on the latter issue since he oversaw Missouri’s joining ERIC in 2018. Ashcroft, at the time, was lauding ERIC for its ability to identify unregistered citizens so that we could help them register. But five years later he blamed the compact because it focused on adding names to The money was distributed to states and election offices run by both parties as well as non-partisan administrators. Republican critics claim that the so-called “Zuckerbucks” had a partisan intent and effect. Though the money was distributed to states and election offices run by both parties as well as non-partisan administrators, Republican critics allege the so-called “Zuckerbucks” had both a partisan intent and effect.

And though he and others have maintained they weren’t influenced by the Gateway Pundit stories, Ashcroft defended the central falsehood in the articles.

“Are you saying Soros money never was a part of ERIC?” he said, before adding of the Soros funding claim, “It’s a lot closer than the Russian collusion hoax was.”

Becker — who

he wouldn’t accept a renomination to the ERIC board the week after Missouri, West Virginia and Florida announced they would leave the group — objected to Ashcroft’s accusations of partisanship. He pointed to a letter of support from Republican election officials. He said that the commendation was signed by Ashcroft’s dad, John Ashcroft, who was the U.S. Attorney General at the time. Becker said that the future of ERIC is not what matters.