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Breaking Up With ERIC: Why Are These 3 States Leaving?

Three states resigned from the interstate collaboration aimed at keeping voting rolls accurate and catching improper voting. Departing states point to concerns about possible political leanings and data policies.

Virginia voters head into a polling place during the November 2018 midterm elections.
Three states have resigned from a voluntary, interstate collaboration aimed at helping election officials keep their registered voting lists accurate.

Last week, Missouri, Florida and West Virginia announced their departure from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). Tensions appear to have come to a head after a February member meeting during which the three states pushed for certain changes to the organization’s policies, but failed to get other states’ buy-in.

One shared complaint: ERIC policies allow up to two board seats for non-voting members who are voting and election experts but not state election chiefs. The trio of states voiced concerns of potential partisanship among non-government members.

These latest departures follow on earlier exits of Louisiana and Alabama in July 2022 and January 2023, respectively.

Other states embrace the organization. An AP survey found 23 states and D.C. plan to remain in ERIC, while the Voting Rights Lab reportedly found three more states introducing bills that would let their states join.

States participating in ERIC share information and receive back reports indicating when a voter may have died, registered twice or possibly voted multiple times in the same election. Such findings cue states to investigate and confirm the situation. ERIC also helps identify residents who are eligible to vote who have yet to register so states can reach out to them with details about how to enroll.

Last year the organization helped member states identify more than 4.4 million potentially eligible but unregistered voters and 11 million voters who’d likely moved to another state. It also found what appeared to be 1 million duplicate names and nearly 570,600 deceased people still listed in voter registration records, ERIC reports.

So why are states leaving?


Sec. of State Jay Ashcroft led Missouri to join ERIC in December 2018 before removing it last week.

He told Government Technology that he and like-minded states left after unsuccessfully seeking certain changes to the organization’s membership agreement and bylaws.

“For over a year now, I’ve been working to try to move through the process of having changes made in the governing documents,” Ashcroft said.

ERIC Executive Director Shane Hamlin published an open letter responding to some concerns, but declined to speak about Missouri’s specific complaints.

Hamlin told Government Technology the organization would abide by members’ resignation requests and continue work to serve remaining member states “in improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens."

Non-voting members
One focus: a bylaw permitting the board of directors to include “up to two” non-voting, term-limited members, who are “experts in voting and elections but not governmental employees.”

Ashcroft believes the board should be able consult with outside experts for advice as needed, but not include them as members.

The issue, he said, is that non-governmental members don’t pay dues and may have political leanings.

“It's wrong to add partisan people to the board, even if they are not voting members,” Ashcroft said.

He called the current non-voting member, David Becker, “pretty hyperpartisan.”

Becker, whom Republican secretaries of state have criticized, disputed Aschroft's characterization. He pointed to a March 2023 letter in support of him, signed by 24 current and former Republican state and local officials as well as two former counsels for Republican presidential candidates.

“We write as Republicans and conservatives, who have worked for election integrity, security and the rule of law,” the letter reads. “Disinformation [is] being spread about David Becker, and the nonpartisan nonprofit that he leads, the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR) ... Becker has worked in the field of elections for 25 years, and has worked with both sides of the aisle to modernize, secure and cultivate accessible elections.”

Becker is the executive director and founder of CEIR, a “nonpartisan, nonprofit” organization, where he works “with election officials of both parties, all around the country, to ensure accessible, secure elections for all eligible voters,” per the organization.

Per the Republican officials' letter, “Three of the six members of CEIR’s board are Republicans, and despite false claims to the contrary, CEIR has never taken any funding from George Soros or any organization affiliated with him.”

Becker also helped create ERIC during his previous role as director of election programs for The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonprofit that lists “nonpartisanship” among its core values and supplied ERIC’s initial funding.

Becker said non-voting or “ex officio” members have limited influence on ERIC.

“Ex officio members of the board cannot vote, cannot make a motion, cannot second a motion, cannot even renominate themselves for another term,” Becker said. “Ex officio members serve only to provide institutional knowledge to an organization whose members often change, and who might need such knowledge, as those member states are the only ones who can vote to shape and direct ERIC.”

Data use limits
Ashcroft also objected to bylaws that restrict some data sharing.

For example, one rule prohibits use of ERIC's data for any use other than election administration. Another rule explicitly prohibits members from revealing a resident as a non-U.S. citizen.

Ashcroft said these kinds of limits were unjustified.

“Let's say that we had information with regard to someone that had moved. We couldn't share that with any other part of state government,” Ashcroft said. “It's our data, we pay for it, and we're the member. We should be able to use it as we see fit to respond appropriately to our constituents.”

Third-party sharing policies
Ashcroft also said that existing policy language could be insufficient to prevent ERIC from sharing data with third parties, and should have been revised to clearly prohibit this.

He said he's seen no evidence of data misuse, but that he is concerned about potential risk.

“I went to ERIC and said, ‘Hey, let’s tighten up this language so that people can feel confident that, based on this language and based on a [security operation center’s] audit, that it’s not happening,” Ashcroft said. "I don't mean to say that they were sending the information out inappropriately; I don't have evidence that they were.”

Current bylaws say ERIC and its members “shall use their best efforts to prevent the unauthorized use or transmission of any private or protected member data,” and that members can't use ERIC data for any purpose other than election administration.

Ashcroft advocated for additional language constraining data use so that, for example, Missouri could only send data on Missourians to third parties, and would be required to seek approval from Florida before sending information from that state to a third party.

Other language could be added to further clarify limits, he said, such as provisions saying ERIC would, in general, only share data back to the state that originated it, while sharing a specified subset of data with other states for purposes like checking for potential multistate voters.

Improving voting investigations
Ashcroft also said he wanted to see states obligated to share data about voters’ names and the locations and dates at which they last cast a ballot. That information could give states the option of investigating voters whose names appear to be used multiple times in the same election, to uncover if fraud occurred.

He said Missouri would not prosecute or remove someone from voting rolls based solely on ERIC data.

“[If] it looks like this person has voted both in Missouri and Florida, well, let's not just send the police to their house. Maybe there's a mistake. Maybe there's a junior and a senior and we're not separating those two correctly,” Ashcroft said.

Bylaws say ERIC will provide states with data about potentially improper votes if they request it.

That includes information about individuals who may have voted more than once within the state the same election, voted in multiple states in the same election or cast a ballot on behalf of a voter who died. The bylaws make clear that members can choose not to request or use such data.

Eligible voter outreach
ERIC member states agree to reach out to residents who are eligible to vote, but haven't yet registered, to inform them how they can do so.

ERIC requires states to contact these residents “at least once every two years.”

Members don't have to contact anyone who's “affirmatively confirmed their desire not to be contacted for purposes of voter registration,” per bylaws. They also don’t have to reach out to someone more than once at the same address.

Ashcroft said this is still too much because states still have to reach out to people who explicitly declined to register to vote when presented with the option at the DMV. A “very small” number of people who declined voter registration change their minds when contacted later, he said.

 “I don’t think we should be harassing people,” he said.

Ashcroft had additional concerns he declined to discuss, saying the ones he listed in his letters were the easier ones to address.

Now that Missouri has left ERIC, Ashcroft said it could go back to seeking change of address details from the U.S. Postal Service and death records from the Social Security Administration.


States that departed alongside, and before, Missouri echoed several of its complaints.

Outside influence
They shared concerns over partisan influence on ERIC. Florida and West Virginia pointed to non-state ex officio board members, while Alabama suggested the organization as a whole represents outside interests. Louisiana worried whether politically biased actors could access ERIC data and questioned its funding source.

These four secretaries of state either did not respond to requests for comment or questions or were unavailable to speak.

ERIC Executive Director Hamlin, meanwhile, presents the organization as an interstate collaboration rather than an outside force. In his open letter he describes ERIC as a nonprofit, “member-run, member-driven organization … created by state election officials.”

Becker spoke similarly, writing that “ERIC is not some outside entity to the states. The states are ERIC. ERIC is run by the states in it, under rules they approve when they voluntarily join, and which they can change at any time (if they can persuade enough of their colleagues in other member states).”

Last year saw posts crop up online alleging that billionaire George Soros funds ERIC, per the AP. But ERIC FAQs say The Pew Charitable Trusts helped states launch the organization and that since then, member states’ dues and joining fees fund its continued operations. While a Soros-affiliated organization did provide money to Pew, that money went to a different effort, not ERIC, Hamlin told the AP.

Data security
Florida and Alabama also raised concerns about the security and privacy of state data shared with ERIC.

Hamlin defended data practices in his open letter.

“Members retain complete control over their voter rolls and they use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws,” Hamlin wrote. “We follow widely accepted security protocols for handling the data we utilize to create the reports. Our servers are housed in a managed, secure data center located here in the U.S. Secure remote access to the data center is limited to only employees who need it to perform their duties.”

Alabama specifically called out ERIC’s access to “the driver’s license numbers, contact information and partial Social Security numbers of minors.” ERIC says such data helps identify who may have moved to other states or died, and that it completed successful third-party reviews of its SSN data handling in 2017 and 2020.

“Voters rarely remember to update their voter registration when they move or change their name, but they do update their license or ID with the motor vehicle licensing agency,” reads the organization’s FAQ.

Former Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill disputed his successor’s choice to leave ERIC.

In a February 2022 op-ed published in Alabama Today, Merrill argues that ERIC can access, securely store and analyze data in ways that individual member states may not be able.

“Our office does not have the authority or capability to securely store other states’ information. ERIC does … Our office does not have the certification and license requirement to access the Social Security Administration Death Master Index. ERIC does,” Merrill wrote. “The state of Alabama could spend tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a recurring annual basis and still not be able to provide the same level of services.”

Alabama joined ERIC in 2016 and has used information provided through the program to help identify about 19,000 people on the state’s voter rolls who may have died, as well as 24,000 potentially duplicate registered voters and 222,000 registered voters who may have moved to another ERIC-participating state.

“These election security measures would not be possible without our partnership with ERIC,” Merrill wrote.
Jule Pattison-Gordon is a senior staff writer for Government Technology. She previously wrote for PYMNTS and The Bay State Banner, and holds a B.A. in creative writing from Carnegie Mellon. She’s based outside Boston.