by Dr. Andy Jackson
Director of the Civitas Center for Public Integrity, John Locke Foundation
[ERIC] is a nonprofit corporation registered in Delaware with a stated goal to “improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”
It accomplishes those goals through systematic sharing of data between member states and from national sources such as the US Social Security Administration’s death index and data from the US Postal Service to member states. The data shared includes names, addresses, dates of birth, and the last four digits of social security numbers. All personal data are encrypted to help prevent the kinds of security breaches that had plagued the Crosscheck program. According to ERIC, they helped member states identify 1,524,301 interstate duplicates (“cross-state movers”), 1,249,344 in-state updates, 136,091 in-state duplicates, and registrations for 72,986 deceased voters.
North Carolina had been a member of the Interstate Crosscheck data-sharing program. That program was later shut down as part of a data breach lawsuit settlement, leaving election officials with limited access to data on registered voters who have died in other states or have otherwise left North Carolina.
ERIC has come under attack from several people. One such person is Alamaba Secretary of State candidate Wes Allen, who called it a “Soros-funded, leftist group.” That brought a rebuke from the current Alabama Secretary of State, John Merrill:
First and foremost, ERIC was not founded nor funded by George Soros, and to claim otherwise is either dishonest or misinformed. ERIC was founded by the original seven–member states: Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, and Washington with the assistance of Pew Charitable Trusts. Also, ERIC’s operating costs are funded completely by annual dues paid by member states, not by George Soros.
Louisianna recently suspended its participation in ERIC. Louisianna Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin said the suspension was over “concerns” he had heard about “potential questionable funding sources and possibly partisan actors may have access to ERIC network data for political purposes.” However, he gave no details about those claims or who was making them.
I have recently talked with conservative election officials from two red states that are ERIC members. They noted how data from ERIC was instrumental in getting hundreds of thousands off their active voter rolls. They also noted how states set guidelines on the data they receive from the system. In addition, state election agencies do not give up their ability to further refine the data they receive from ERIC. For example, the State Board of Elections can use the SAVE Electronic Immigration Status Verification tool to detect and remove non-citizens.
Those conversations also highlighted some legitimate concerns about ERIC. They include some opaqueness in handling data and the personnel involved in the data processing. While maintaining the privacy of those in the data system is crucial, transparency in how the system is maintained and who has access to it is just as important. While there is no evidence that data from ERIC has gone to outside groups, it should take steps to assure member states that such a breach is not possible.
Also, ERIC’s requirement that member states regularly mail reminders to unregistered residents about how to register to vote is an unnecessary expense. People who have had business with the North Carolina Department of Motor Vehicles (the most significant single source of data on those residents) can already register online. The money ERIC would require North Carolina to spend on mailings would be better spent on election administration.
North Carolina would benefit from the increased ability ERIC would provide to remove the dead and those who have moved off voter rolls to reduce the risk of voter fraud in our elections. At the same time, we should be aware of potential problems with the system and advocate for reforms.
If another data-sharing option that would similarly help clean voter rolls without the burdens ERIC imposes becomes available, North Carolina should join it. Until then, the options are to either join ERIC or accept that we will have hundreds of thousands of dead or moved people on our active voter rolls who otherwise could be removed.