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Missouri elections chief rebuts media spin about red state exits from voter data-sharing group

ERIC doesn't require multistate voter fraud to be addressed but does require voter registration efforts, says Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.

Voter fraud sign at Lupica Towers in Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 4, 2008
Voter fraud sign at Lupica Towers in Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 4, 2008
J.D. Pooley / Getty Images

Published: March 18, 2023 3:43am

Updated: March 27, 2023 12:45pm

A multistate voter data-sharing organization abandoned by a growing number of red states for alleged partisanship is focused on identifying and registering unregistered voters not on combating voter fraud, says Missouri's top elections official, rebutting a media narrative misrepresenting the reasons for the GOP states' flight.

Florida, Missouri, and West Virginia left the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) earlier this month after the organization's board of directors rejected changes proposed by a bipartisan working group of several member states. The rejected proposals included increasing protections for confidential voter information and limiting the power of partisan, ex-officio ERIC board members. 

On Friday, Ohio also announced its departure from ERIC, while Iowa's secretary of state said he would recommend to the governor and legislature that the Hawkeye State follow suit because ERIC declined to make changes to the membership agreement and the withdrawal of multiple states makes it less useful, the Associated Press reported

Alaska and Texas are also considering leaving ERIC

Leading establishment media outlets reported that the departing states were leaving an anti-voter fraud organization. The Associated Press headlined its story "3 GOP states pull out of effort to thwart voter fraud," and the New York Times' headline reads "G.O.P. States Abandon Bipartisan Voting Integrity Group, Yielding to Conspiracy Theories."

The Washington Post story on Ohio's withdrawal from ERIC begins by calling the nonprofit "a little-known data-sharing consortium that has helped keep voter rolls nationwide updated and free of opportunities for fraud but has recently come under attack from election deniers spreading misinformation about its role."

However, Missouri left ERIC because preventing fraud wasn't a priority for the organization, according to the state's top election official. 

In a letter to ERIC Executive Director Shane Hamlin explaining his state's exit, Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft cited ERIC's refusal "to require member states to participate in addressing multi-state voter fraud" and its focus "on adding names to voter rolls by requiring a solicitation to individuals who already had an opportunity to register to vote and made the conscious decision to not be registered." 

Ashcroft told Just the News on Friday that requiring multistate voter fraud to be addressed by all member states was important because "every illegal vote cancels out a legal voter."

Addressing voter fraud should be a requirement since the idea of ERIC was to clean up voter rolls, but it isn't required, Ashcroft said, despite claims that it's a key benefit of the group. 

Instead, ERIC was "focused on adding people to voter rolls" who had already declined to register at the Department of Motor Vehicles, he explained. ERIC states are required to reach out to these eligible-but-unregistered (EBU) voters. 

He added that the percentage of EBUs who registered to vote "was very small," as was the amount of those who ended up voting, so reaching out to them was "not an effective use of taxpayer dollars."

There was also "a lot of concern" about ERIC sharing voter data with the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR), Ashcroft said. 

Both ERIC and CEIR were founded by David Becker, a former trial attorney in the Voting Section of the Department of Justice's Civil Rights Division who has been described by former colleagues as "a hard-core leftist." Ashcroft was concerned about Becker being "hyperpartisan."

CEIR received nearly $70 million from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2020, and claims, "The 2020 general election was the most secure in American history." 

Ashcroft said that some audits seemed to indicate that if ERIC voter data was given to CEIR, then it was done by individual states. 

The American Accountability Foundation obtained by an open records request a 2021 email sent from CEIR project manager Kyle Upchurch to then-Pennsylvania Deputy Elections Secretary Jonathan M. Marks, where Upchurch mentioned EBUs and advice from ERIC regarding voter files. Upchurch also requested any demographic information regarding EBUs. 

Election integrity group Verity Vote obtained emails via open records request that show CEIR and ERIC exchanging EBU data to use for voter registration outreach, according to a report the group published in June 2022. 

In 2020, CEIR provided over $830,000 in grant money to Pennsylvania for outreach to ERIC EBUs, according to a grant agreement

Becker, who was an ex-officio, non-voting member of the ERIC Board of Directors, announced on Tuesday that his term was ending that week and he wasn't accepting renomination. 

"In the last year, efforts by election deniers to attack ERIC have ramped up, and lies have been spread about me and the work of [CEIR]," Becker wrote on Twitter. "26 Republicans and conservatives recently wrote in support of the truth and our bipartisan/nonpartisan work.

"The truth is that ERIC remains the best tool to keep voter lists accurate, and combat voter fraud ...

"Unfortunately, attacks fueled by disinformation by those who want our democracy to fail, have led to some states, all R-led, to diminish their own ability to maintain election integrity. 

"States that leave ERIC will see more dead voters and voters who have moved away on their lists, and reduce their ability to detect double-voting. As a result, they will likely see longer voting lines, more undeliverable mail, and take longer to count ballots."

The letter from Republicans was posted on CEIR’s website, noting Becker's prior connection with Pew Charitable Trusts and the "resulting ... creation" of ERIC, as well as CEIR's "nonpartisan and bipartisan credentials." The signatories include Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger and Stephen Richer, county recorder in Arizona's Maricopa County. 

In response to the three GOP states leaving ERIC earlier in March, Raffensperger tweeted a gif of Spongebob Squarepants punching himself in the face, writing: "States claim they want to combat illegal voting & clean voter rolls — but then leave the best & only group capable of detecting double voting across state lines, [ERIC]. Reacting to disinformation they've hurt their own state & others while undermining voter confidence."

Ashcroft said in response to the letter from Republicans that he would be "happy to stack my conservative credentials up against theirs any day."

Noting that there has been a "lot of discussion" about what states will do without ERIC, Ashcroft said Missouri is focused on cleaning the state's voter rolls on its own. He is unsure Missouri can stop multistate voter fraud, he acknowledged, but said it wasn't able to with ERIC anyway, especially as five of its eight border states wouldn't join ERIC without the implementation of the proposed changes. 

ERIC has not responded to a request for comment.

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