Texas weighs exit from ERIC as new report cites secrecy around voter data passed to outside groups

Five GOP-led states are leaving the multistate voter data-sharing partnership in June after two previously left within the past year.

Published: April 22, 2023 11:30pm

As Texas becomes the latest GOP-led state to consider leaving a multistate voter data-sharing organization over fears of an ulterior partisan agenda, election integrity advocates have released a report suggesting potential corrective measures or, failing those, a new alternative group. 

The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which facilitates voter registration and maintenance of voter rolls, was founded by David Becker, who also founded the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR). CEIR, which received nearly $70 million from Meta CEO Mark Zuckerberg's Chan Zuckerberg Initiative in 2020, claims, "The 2020 general election was the most secure in American history." 

Several Republican secretaries of state have either withdrawn their states from ERIC, are in the process of doing so, or are considering leaving the multistate partnership. They have cited concerns about partisan influence in the organization, failure to require that multistate voter fraud be addressed, restrictions on how states may use the ERIC data reports and a requirement for member states to solicit registration by individuals who had chosen not to register to vote when given the opportunity. 

These states are now focusing on cleaning their own voter rolls by, for example, crosschecking data between the U.S. Postal Service, the Social Security Administration Master Death File and the Department of Motor Vehicles. 

ERIC currently has 32 members — 31 states and Washington, D.C. — but will have 27 after Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia leave in June. Alabama and Louisiana have already left ERIC, and Alaska is also considering leaving. 

On Thursday, the Texas House Committee on Elections held a hearing on a bill that would withdraw the state from ERIC. The state Senate's version of the bill was already approved and sent to the House. The Texas secretary of state supports leaving ERIC. 

Meanwhile, the Loudoun County Republican Committee is urging Virginia to leave ERIC, sending its resolution to withdraw from the organization to state officials, including Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Virginia was one of the original members of ERIC when it began in 2012. 

Youngkin has not publicly commented on Virginia's status with ERIC since GOP states began leaving, and his office has not responded to a request for comment. 

Election integrity advocates have warned about concerns regarding ERIC. 

In a report released Wednesday by the Heritage Foundation, Heritage fellow Hans von Spakovsky and Public Interest Legal Foundation President J. Christian Adams detail issues they found with ERIC and outline potential reforms and alternatives. 

The report recommends that ERIC be more transparent and annually disclose any data or information that ERIC produces, what outside organizations are given data from member states and what databases ERIC uses in developing its analysis of data from member states. 

Adams and von Spakovsky note in their report that ERIC "prohibits states from providing information on citizenship status," despite federal law prohibiting illegal immigrants from registering to vote or voting in a federal election. 

The authors recommend that ERIC provide citizenship information to member states for them to determine if illegal immigrants have registered to vote or voted so they may be removed from voter rolls and prosecuted if necessary. 

Explaining that ERIC restricts how member states may use the data the organization provides to them, the report argues that it "should be entirely up to the discretion of each member state to decide when and how the data received from ERIC are used."

The authors note concerns about ERIC forcing member states to engage in voter registration activities, despite states already making it easy for citizens to register to vote. 

The membership agreement that states must adhere to "forces states to send out notices ... every 425 days ... to at least 95 percent of the individuals in a state who are potentially eligible to vote but who have not registered 'inform[ing] them how to register to vote'" or else be removed from ERIC, according to the report. 

The "central task of state governements is to administer the voter registration and voting system, not to engage in voter registration campaigns," the authors write.

One of the purported key benefits of ERIC is that it helps prevent multistate voter fraud by using data from member states to determine if anyone voted more than once or by using a dead voter's name. However, that benefit is provided to member states only "upon written request," according to the report. 

"Since the entire purpose of the organization is to increase the accuracy of state voter registration lists, these data should automatically be included with the other data ERIC provides to member states," Adams and von Spakovsky write. 

The report notes that there isn't a requirement for ERIC's committees to have bipartisan membership and that the organization's full-time employees should be prevented "from making political contributions, participating directly or indirectly in political campaigns, or holding positions in other nonprofit organizations or advocacy groups."

Additionally, the authors suggest ERIC have two co-executive directors, one from each political party, instead of only one executive director. 

They further recommend that ERIC undergo a yearly IT audit by an independent firm to determine that the sensitive data it receives from states are secure and that ERIC is operating "transparently" and "efficiently."

The final suggestion for fixing ERIC is that the organization purchase registered voter information from nonmember states to better assist member states in cleaning their voter rolls. 

If these changes to ERIC are not made, then Adams and von Spakovsky suggest that states create an alternative. The authors acknowledge, however, that creating such an alternative "will require financial capital, development time, and a dedicated commitment from state officials."

Obtaining from multiple states data such as full names, dates of birth and addresses and sorting it all is difficult when every state organizes its data differently, the report notes. While the task is possible, it is very expensive to create such a system. Also, the issue of outdated and incomplete voter rolls makes it challenging to obtain accurate data. 

Member states of such an alternative partnership should also purchase "voter registration and other data from nonmember states and commercial databases" for the system to be more effective. The authors caution that this is also a significant expense. 

"ERIC should reform to be more effective and help our elections be more secure," Adams said in a statement. "ERIC is currently the only viable system that allows states to know who is registered to vote in multiple states. A replacement to ERIC doesn't exist and will take time and money to develop. Most of all, it needs to be trusted by both blue and red state officials."

ERIC hasn't responded to a request for comment.

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