On Monday, three GOP-led states withdrew from a bipartisan initiative to ensure accurate voter lists, which has successfully prevented voter fraud. This decision results from the influence of former President Donald Trump, who has encouraged such actions. The withdrawal highlights the impact of conspiracy theories related to the 2020 presidential election, which continue to disrupt long-established traditions in how the United States conducts its elections. This move indicates that the Republican Party is still grappling with the aftermath of the election and its implications for the future of American democracy.
The chief election officials of Florida, Missouri, and West Virginia have notified the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which is made up of both Republican-led and Democratic-led states, that they will be departing from the voluntary program.#ERIC #Florida #GOP pic.twitter.com/WYTlT24yon
— News Live (@NewsLiveFree) March 7, 2023
The top election officials in Florida, West Virginia, and Missouri have informed the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) that they will leave the program. ERIC is a voluntary initiative that includes states led by the Republicans and Democrats. This decision follows the footsteps of Louisiana, which withdrew from the program last year, and Alabama, which has already announced plans to leave this year. Additionally, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose recently threatened to withdraw from the program in a letter to member states, despite defending its efficacy just a few weeks ago. LaRose previously called ERIC “one of the best fraud-fighting tools” available to election officials.
Florida’s Exit Deals a Blow to ERIC’s Efforts to Prevent Voter Fraud
The departure of these states could have significant implications for the program’s effectiveness in preventing voter fraud. The withdrawal of Florida from the data-sharing group ERIC will significantly impact the initiative, which relies heavily on member states to produce accurate reports on voters who may have died or moved to another state. With 14.4 million registered voters, Florida’s exit will be a considerable loss for the group. ERIC’s reports help states identify individuals who may have voted in multiple states, enabling them to take necessary action against such individuals. Therefore, the withdrawal of Florida will affect the program’s efficacy in preventing voter fraud.
ERIC has successfully identified potentially deceased or relocated voters, with Maryland reporting the identification of over 66,000 such voters and Georgia removing almost 100,000 voters based on data provided by ERIC. However, despite its effectiveness in improving election integrity, the initiative has become the subject of suspicion, particularly among Republican lawmakers and officials prioritizing efforts to combat voter fraud. Last year, online posts questioned the funding and purpose of ERIC, giving rise to conspiracy theories, including claims that billionaire philanthropist George Soros, a target of many such theories, funded the voter data-sharing system. These suspicions have cast doubt on the initiative’s credibility and effectiveness.
Despite initial funding from the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts, the ERIC’s current funding comes from annual dues paid by member states. ERIC’s executive director, Shane Hamlin, clarified that the organization received no financing from Soros-affiliated groups and the conspiracy theory is baseless. In a statement released on Monday, Hamlin assured ERIC would continue its work to improve voter rolls’ accuracy and increase voter registration access for eligible citizens in the remaining member states.
State Officials Lost Confidence in ERIC
Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft revealed in an interview that he withdrew from the Electronic Registration Information Center after failing to convince the program to implement the changes he had advocated for. Ashcroft cited the unlikely prospect of other neighboring states joining the initiative as another reason for his departure. The changes Ashcroft sought included eliminating the mailing of unregistered voters and removing any partisan influences from the program. In an interview with The Associated Press, Ashcroft emphasized the need for a trustworthy system that is well-implemented to ensure the people in the state can have confidence. He expressed doubt that ERIC would achieve this level of trust.
Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, stated that state officials no longer have confidence in the ERIC. Meanwhile, West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner expressed similar frustrations but noted that withdrawing from the program would not affect his state’s ability to maintain accurate voter rolls. Additionally, former President Donald Trump called on all Republican-led states to immediately withdraw from the program, alleging that the system pumps up voter rolls for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up. Trump made the comments on his social media platform.
No national voter registration clearinghouse exists, so the Electronic Registration Information Center is the only data-sharing program among states. ERIC was established in 2012 by seven states, and from the beginning, it was bipartisan, with four founding states led by Republicans. With the recent departures of five Republican-led states, the program’s participation will drop to 28 states and the District of Columbia. The exits have disappointed the state election officials involved in the effort and have highlighted how intensely election conspiracies have spread throughout the GOP Party.
Criticism against states pulling out of ERIC
Several election officials and advocacy groups have criticized the decision by Republican-led states to leave the ERIC, a bipartisan data-sharing program aimed at ensuring accurate voter lists. Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson stated that officials who withdraw from ERIC are hurting their own state’s ability to keep voter lists accurate. At the same time, Brad Ashwell, Florida director of advocacy group All Voting is Local, accused Governor DeSantis of caving to the interests of conspiracy theorists.
Not all Republican-led states are reevaluating their participation in the program. A recent survey by the AP found that election offices in twenty-three states and the District of Columbia had no plans to leave, including eight led or controlled by Republicans. Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate called ERIC a “useful tool for ensuring the integrity” of his state’s voter rolls. Gabriel Sterling, an official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, urged representatives from three other Republican-led states to join the system. Brad Ashwell, Florida advocacy group All Voting is Local’ director, criticized Governor DeSantis’ decision to leave ERIC, stating that it goes against the party’s supposed commitment to election integrity.
Several states are considering bills requiring them to leave or prohibiting them from joining the ERIC program. In Texas, lawmakers have introduced a bill that would mandate the state’s exit from the program if passed and signed into law. Similarly, proposed legislation in Oklahoma would prohibit the state from joining ERIC. On the other hand, California, Kansas, and New Hampshire have introduced bills that would permit them to join the program, according to the Voting Rights Lab. New York is another state with a significant population yet to be part of the ERIC program.