Guest opinion: Instead of leaving ERIC, conservatives should convince others to join
In his first official act as Alabama’s secretary of state, Wes Allen withdrew from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) following in the footsteps of Louisiana’s secretary last year. Since then, three more states—Florida, Missouri and West Virginia—have withdrawn from the program, and Ohio has threatened to do so as well. This move has drawn criticism from other Republicans such as Georgia’s secretary of state, and rightfully so.
ERIC is a little-known organization whose purpose is to coordinate voter registration information across states in order to improve the accuracy of voter rolls. ERIC has proven to be an invaluable tool for enhancing the security and integrity of elections, and recent withdrawals put the accuracy of voter rolls at risk. Instead of abandoning the effort, conservatives should be encouraging other states to become members.
When states join ERIC, they submit their voter registration information securely online, which then gets compared to data from other member states. Software identifies any potential conflicts, such as voters who moved within the state, voters who moved to a different state, voters who died or voters with duplicate registrations. Reports on these issues are then provided to the state to act on.
List maintenance like this is incredibly important for ensuring the security of elections, and indeed it has been a major priority for conservatives. Prior to ERIC’s founding in 2012, one estimate found that 1-in-8 voter registrations were invalid or inaccurate. As more voters rely on absentee and mail balloting, list maintenance becomes even more important. Beyond the potential for fraud, failure to maintain accurate voter rolls can result in ballots being sent to the wrong address or voters not receiving their ballots at all.
ERIC’s work has been distinctly nonpartisan. The organization was founded by seven election directors, four of whom were Republicans. Its member states span the partisan spectrum including blue states like Illinois and New Jersey and red states like South Carolina and Utah. In total, 28 states and Washington, D.C. remain members after the recent exits. As a result of this broad membership, ERIC has identified millions of updates to member states’ voter rolls since its inception—and presumably prevented many potential opportunities for wrongdoing.
It would be hard to imagine a system that better reflects conservative priorities and principles of election administration than ERIC. For one, the organization maintains the primacy of states in matters of list maintenance as opposed to empowering the federal government through a national database. It also is a voluntary organization funded by dues from member states. Therefore, ERIC is neither an expansion of the federal government nor another unfunded mandate. Not to mention, ERIC is secure. An independent review of the organization’s processes concluded that ERIC has “strong data security practices.”
Nonetheless, five Republican-led states have now withdrawn from the compact citing concerns over the sharing of data. But the result of their actions will be to make it more costly to keep voter rolls accurate in these states—and in others. A non-trivial number of voters move from state-to-state, and Americans are moving long distances now more than ever.
Instead of leaving ERIC, conservatives should convince other states to join the effort to further improve voter roll accuracy nationwide—an action that is more consistent with a commitment to preventing electoral malfeasance. California and New York, for example, are currently not members despite housing some of the most drastically shrinking populations in the country. Including these states could improve voter roll accuracy in other states significantly, especially in states like Arizona, Florida, Texas and Washington, which are the top destinations for California and New York émigrés.
Strikingly, none of the five states ending their participation in ERIC have provided details about how they will make up for the loss in services provided by the group. Without an alternative, it stands to reason that opportunities for fraud will only increase. But the importance of good list maintenance cannot be overstated: ERIC serves as a uniquely valuable tool to keep voter rolls around the country as accurate as possible. The program only becomes more useful and effective as new members join, and voters would benefit from conservatives encouraging more states to participate, not fewer.