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3 more Republican states announce they're leaving a key voting data partnership

A sticker on a lamp post warns of voter fraud on Nov. 7, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska is part of a bipartisan compact of more than 30 states that shares voting data.
Spencer Platt
/
Getty Images
A sticker on a lamp post warns of voter fraud on Nov. 7, 2022, in Anchorage, Alaska. Alaska is part of a bipartisan compact of more than 30 states that shares voting data.

The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is a multi-state partnership that experts across the political spectrum say is the only reliable, secure way for states to share voter registration data with each other.

But on Monday, three Republican-led states announced they are pulling out of ERIC — leaving questions about the future of a system that up until recently was a bipartisan success story, as well as questions about how these three states will maintain accurate voter lists without such a resource.

"[ERIC] is a godsend," Paul Pate, the GOP secretary of state of Iowa, told NPR in an interview last month.

But state officials in Florida, Missouri and West Virginia have joined a growing number of Republicans who don't see it that way.

The states announced in tandem Monday that they were beginning the process to pull out, after weeks of tense negotiations over potential changes the organization could make to appease GOP members who have been facing constituent pressure about ERIC, in part due to a sustained misinformation campaign from the far-right.

Just last week, ERIC's executive director, Shane Hamlin, put out an open letter to, as he claimed, "set the record straight" amid misinformation about the compact.

In a press release Monday, Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, an appointee of Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, said the voting organization didn't do enough to secure data privacy or "eliminate ERIC's partisan tendencies."

Just weeks ago, a January report from the Florida Department of State Office of Election Crimes and Security said it had "used data provided by ERIC to identify" hundreds of voters who appeared to have voted in Florida and in another ERIC member state in the same election.

Hamlin confirmed to NPR that ERIC had received the three states' requests for resignation. "We will continue our work on behalf of our remaining member states in improving the accuracy of America's voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens," he added in a statement.

How ERIC came to be

To be clear, for the first 10 or so years it was in existence, ERIC operated in obscurity.

Four of its founding seven state members were Republican-run, and its membership has slowly grown to include more than 30 states and governments across the political spectrum, from the more liberal-minded Rhode Island and Washington, D.C., to the conservative South Carolina and Texas.

The partnership allows states to use and share government data — from election offices as well as the Department of Motor Vehicles and the Social Security Administration — to eliminate dead voters from the rolls, find the few people in every federal election who illegally vote twice, and also register eligible voters when they move to a new place.

"ERIC started with a question to election officials, which is: If you could fix one thing in elections that would make your job better, that would enable you to provide better services to voters, what would it be?" said David Becker, who helped found ERIC while he was working at the Pew Charitable Trusts a decade ago. "Every single election official we asked ... said voter registration."

The Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank, even praises states for joining ERIC.

What changed for ERIC

But early last year, fringe conservative media began to target the organization — and Becker, who has remained involved with the organization as a non-voting board member.

The Gateway Pundit, a far-right publication, published in January 2022 the first of a series of articles painting ERIC as part of a liberal conspiracy to steal elections.

The two main villains at the heart of the conspiracy? The billionaire George Soros and Becker.

Becker now runs a separate nonprofit called the Center for Election Innovation and Research, which helped distribute hundreds of millions of dollars in grants that Mark Zuckerberg and his wife Priscilla Chan donated to election officials during the 2020 election cycle amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Some on the right have pointed to that work as evidence that Becker is a liberal activist, though NPR spoke with numerous current and former Republican election officials who say they have worked with Becker over the years and found him to be even-handed in his elections work.

Shortly after the first Gateway Pundit article published in 2022, Louisiana became the first state to begin the process of withdrawing its membership in ERIC, citing "concerns raised by citizens, government watchdog organizations and media reports."

Other conservative media outlets published "investigations" that implied ERIC is a taxpayer-funded voter registration drive to help Democrats, and Cleta Mitchell, the lawyer who helped Donald Trump try to overturn the 2020 election, began focusing on the organization on her podcast, which is influential in election-denier circles.

A day after being sworn in in January, Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen sent a letter informing the Electronic Registration Information Center of the state's exit after criticizing the program during his campaign.
Butch Dill / AP
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AP
A day after being sworn in in January, Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen sent a letter informing the Electronic Registration Information Center of the state's exit after criticizing the program during his campaign.

In November, Alabama elected a new secretary of state, Wes Allen, who had made pulling out of ERIC one of his key campaign promises. On his first day in office, Allen sent a letter to ERIC's executive director, following through on that promise.

His Republican predecessor had praised ERIC.

In a recent interview with NPR, Allen said his office was "putting a plan together" to keep his state's voter registration list up to date without the data from across the country the state previously received from ERIC.

But election officials from across the political spectrum have told NPR that it is essentially impossible to replicate what ERIC does, and Alabama and Louisiana will now just have less up-to-date voter records.

In their separate announcements on Monday, Florida, West Virginia and Missouri did not explain how they will maintain the accuracy of their voter lists without data from ERIC.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.