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Election deniers target group that helps states maintain voter rolls

PoliticsElectionsElection deniers target group that helps states maintain voter rolls
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At a time of hyperpolarization surrounding voting and elections, Democrats and Republicans have largely managed to agree on one thing — that a little-known data-sharing consortium of more than 30 states has worked to keep voter rolls up-to-date and free of opportunities for fraud. Helped to keep

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But the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), as the consortium is known, has recently been straining under the weight of allegations and misinformation from election denialists. Critics, some of whom have aligned themselves with former President Donald Trump’s falsely stolen-election narrative, have claimed that the group is actually a left-wing vehicle that shares sensitive voter data with liberal groups. The bloated and false rolls it encourages and enables are the very insidious it is intended to eradicate. ERIC leaders deny these allegations.

Now, ERIC’s existence is in jeopardy, with Republican-led states withdrawing, others threatening to do so, and a heated debate has erupted among members on how to save the organization. Should ERIC collapse, its boosters say the country would lose one of its most powerful tools for keeping ballot fraud at bay Just as the states are starting to prepare for the 2024 election calendar.

“Why would people who want more electoral integrity try to harm the best tool?” asked David Baker, who helped found ERIC with seven states in 2012, when he led the elections program at the Pew Charitable Trusts and watched it grow over the coming decade. “The only thing I can come up with is that they don’t really want election integrity. They want more chaos.

The founding members of ERIC thought they had Devised the right way to implement sound voter list practices on the states, keeping Republicans and Democrats happy in an area filled with mutual suspicion. The organization requires member states to share data from their voter registration rolls and motor vehicle records with each other – and to use the reports that ERIC compiles from time to time so that they can identify those from their rolls. may help to remove those who have died or are gone. can also be used for help system Identify and prosecute those who double-vote across state lines.

New members are also required to send a postcard to every eligible, unregistered voter in their state, encouraging them to register to vote. They should repeat the exercise with newly eligible voters before every federal election.

Point two of ERIC’s mission is to encourage both Republicans, who insist on rigorous list maintenance, and Democrats, who focus on encouraging voter registration, to join the organization. It worked: By early 2022, 34 states — red, blue and everything in between — had joined the consortium. Members include Texas and Florida, Massachusetts and Minnesota – and all but six of the closest Fought battleground states from the 2020 presidential election.

In the aftermath of that election, however, when Trump launched an unrelenting campaign to overturn the result and spread false claims that his defeat was rigged, ERIC became the subject of unproven attacks. Because it was set up partly with the help of Pew, which receives funding from the organization of philanthropic donor George Soros, some of Trump’s allies have called it a left-wing, Soros-backed operation. (ERIC operates on taxpayer-funded dues from member states and has never received money from Soros.)

Critics have also targeted Baker, who now leads the nonprofit Center for Election Innovation and Research. He has accused them, without evidence, of sharing ERIC data with liberal groups, and he has claimed that the group’s real purpose is to blindly encourage voter registration, not maintain registration lists.

Conservative commentator Hayden Ludwig wrote in American Conservative in October, “Make no mistake – taxpayer-funded voter registration is a major change in the way Americans run elections.” “In practical terms, this means receiving voter registration or mail-in ballot applications when seniors file for Social Security benefits, Native American Indians seek treatment from health services, or students apply for federal college loans. Few conservatives are aware of the Left’s complete fixation on the power of voter registration.

state and local governments There is actually a long tradition of helping to fund and manage voter registration efforts. But such misinformation has prompted some states to opt out of ERICs and others to consider doing the same. Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) Withdrawn in January 2022, and Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen (R) He did so earlier this year, on his second day in office, after campaigning on that promise.

In addition, state lawmakers are considering rolling back the law in Republican-led Texas and Missouri. No Democratic-governed state has taken such steps.

Ardoin said at the time that he made this decision amid “citizens, government surveillance organizations, and media reports about possible questionable funding sources and potentially partisan actors may have access to ERIC network data for political purposes, potentially dramatically undermining voter confidence.”

Allen of Alabama has been more forthright in his criticism—claiming without evidence that ERIC mishandles state data. In late February, while attending a conference of secretaries of state in Washington, Allen stopped by the mailing address listed on ERIC’s website, only to discover a company called Expensive that rents office space during the day. Takes

“Prior to my taking office, Alabama transferred the personal information of millions of our citizens to this private organization over the years,” Allen said in a statement released after his visit to Washington. “That information is stored on a server somewhere but we don’t know where. There is no ERIC operation at the place they claim to have their office. A lot of personal data and taxpayer money has been transferred to ERIC. where is that data? Where are the employees? Where are the offices? Where’s the computer?”

In an interview, Shane Hamlin, ERIC’s executive director, explained that the group contracts with Expensive to use its Washington office only as a mailing address. He added that ERIC’s entire staff works remotely, so there is no need for office space. And he explained that ERIC’s data is stored in a secure location by a reputable data company United States — Information accessible to member states, including Alabama.

Last Wednesday, Hamlin issued a statement Demanding to “set the record straight” on what was described as “recent misinformation”. The statement explained that ERIC is member-funded and member-run, has never been linked to state registration systems and uses “widely accepted” security protocols for handling sensitive data.

Data is encrypted the ERIC way – process explained Technical details on the group’s website – and re-encrypted on the way back to the States. Hamlin said that personal information such as a driver’s license number, date of birth or social security number is not shared with outside groups and would be unreadable if it were.

Officials in states that have already opted out of ERIC or are considering doing so say they are confident they can keep their voter rolls clean without the shared data.

Others say that three pieces of data that ERIC provides are particularly valuable: national change of address records from the US Postal Service, which some member states receive from ERIC once a month; death records from the Social Security Administration, which are expensive; and Voter Participation Records, which enables member states to identify and prosecute voters who cast ballots fraudulently in more than one state.

For example, Georgia used ERIC data to remove from its rolls 114,000 voters who had either died or moved out of state, according to the secretary of state’s office.

ERIC is not just a carrier for data; This matches it with existing voters in each state — a level of scrutiny otherwise unavailable to most election offices, elections officials said.

“For what it’s worth,” a state elections official said on condition of anonymity because they are not authorized to speak publicly. “I can buy [change of address and Social Security records], But what I cannot do is spend millions of dollars to build matching software to match the information in those files to my voter list.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) said that elections officials who “walk out of the organization harm their ability to keep their state’s voter rolls accurate.”

much controversy over how to maintain ERIC revolves around whether to continue two key components of the membership agreement – ​​requirements to encourage voter registration and use of ERIC’s data to scour voter rolls for inaccuracies.

Many member states have advocated making those two provisions optional to prevent more states from withdrawing, arguing that the primary goal should be to keep as many states in the consortium as possible so that data-sharing can continue for those who choose to use it. , Other members have argued that eliminating the mandate could cause Democratic-run states that support it to withdraw the voter-registration piece.

Depending on their population size, states pay anywhere from $26,000 to $116,000 to belong to ERIC, which last year had a budget of about $1.5 million. In addition, states must pay for postage to satisfy the voter-registration requirement.

ERIC members are scheduled to meet on March 17 with a plan to vote on the proposed reform, which would require all member states to conduct voter-registration and most list-keeping operations at least once, but then Make tasks optional.

It’s unclear whether the proposal will pass, but there is broad agreement that if no reforms are adopted, it could leave more states on the sidelines, cutting data-sharing with those states and bringing the organization too close to collapse. Will give

“The stakes,” said Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon (D), an ERIC supporter, “are too high here.”

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