Credit: Dr. Mark Rosenberg
Credit: Dr. Mark Rosenberg
The nine states opting to leave ERIC cite four problems, three of which – political bias, data privacy and incompetence - are based on false information, and one of which – support for voter registration – suggests a desire to keep registrations down.
First, on political bias, critics have argued, based initially on an accusation raised by the website Gateway Pundit, that ERIC was originally funded by George Soros and “…is essentially a left wing voter registration drive disguised as voter roll clean up.”
In fact, ERIC was initially established in 2012 by seven states (Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington) and by 2020 had 30 member states, including South Carolina, Alabama and West Virginia. ERIC was attractive because it was explicitly designed to be bipartisan by ensuring that all eligible voters, but only eligible voters, were on the voter rolls. Further, Soros never contributed to ERIC (but he did contribute to the 2012 report on problems in the U.S. voter registration system that inspired ERIC’s creation). As the Heritage Foundation notes, “States themselves funded ERIC after the organization’s inception, paying a $25,000 fee to join in addition to annual dues using a formula that includes the size of the state’s citizen voting-age population.”
ERIC’s defenders charge that attacks on the organization are themselves politically motivated, fueled by what Georgia’s Secretary of State labeled as disinformation. Even a Texas Republican critic of ERIC has acknowledged that “…. there is no evidence that ERIC is doing anything to Texas voter rolls, I want to be clear about that … . But we do know, again, that the people running ERIC don’t share our worldview.”
Second, on data privacy, critics have argued that, since ERIC is receiving sensitive data from states and engaging in database research and matching, the organizations require greater oversight and accountability to ensure transparency, efficiency and security in the handling and analysis of those data. ERIC should therefore conduct mandatory and recurring IT audits of its IT infrastructure, including feedback from member states.
Yet ERIC’s bylaws say specifically that no non-member states are given access to the data. Nor does the organization publicize its internal security measures. It rather maintains a dedicated Privacy and Technology Advisory Board. Any personal voter data is encrypted into a string of characters unreadable by humans. ERIC’s executive director has claimed that ERIC has not suffered a data breach, nor have critics identified such a breach.
Third, some have charged that despite Georgia’s membership in ERIC, the state’s voter rolls are filled with people who have moved away or died. This is in fact the accusation lodged by a Georgia-based company, Eagle AI, currently marketing software that would facilitate the ability of Georgia residents and election officials to cancel voter registrations.
Not surprisingly, Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, whose office is already planning to cancel over 190,000 inactive voter registrations, has defended Georgia’s voter rolls as extremely clean. In addition, EagleAI itself shows evidence of distinct partisan motivation as reflected in its links with the Election Integrity Network (itself a project of the Conservative Partnership Institute.) The Network’s leader was key in supporting efforts to overturn Pres. Trump’s loss in Georgia, and one of its participants has challenged the registrations of almost 10,000 people since last year.
In fact, all the evidence indicates that ERIC basically works, as attested even by multiple Republican officials, including from Alabama, Texas and Virginia. Georgia’s Raffensperger summed up the irony of Republican-led states leaving ERIC: “States claim they want to combat illegal voting and clean voter rolls — but then leave the best and only group capable of detecting double voting across state lines … .”
Fourth, some challenge ERIC’s requirement that member states reach out at least once every 2 years to individuals who already had an opportunity to register to vote but have not done so. Some states argue that this requirement is a waste of money, is overreach, may be partisan and should be eliminated. ERIC should stick to its original intent – to improve voter rolls’ accuracy.
But an important assumption underlying ERIC’s very creation was that expansion of voter registration is a good thing because: a larger, broader electorate provides more perspectives, conveys greater legitimacy on elections, encourages greater sense of citizenship and overcomes past inequalities in citizens’ voice. In this view, ERIC’s mandate to encourage voting is legitimate and praiseworthy.
Georgia elections may have problems, but the state’s participation in ERIC is not one of them.
Rick Doner is the Goodrich C. White Professor (emeritus) of political science at Emory University.