“Non-partisan, data-driven, objective tool for testing, auditing and maintaining the validity of voter registrations” is a description suited well for the Election Registration Information Center (ERIC), the more than a decade-old state membership organization that aims to ensure accurate voter rolls, increase voter registration and deter illegal voting.
But that description doesn’t come from ERIC, nor is it referring to the well-established voter roll organization. Rather, that’s how a little-known Republican-backed group, EagleAI, describes its amateur computer program in a leaked internal document.
The software, called EagleAI NETwork, is one of the right’s leading replacements for ERIC, which has come under conspiracy-laden fire from the nine Republican states that have left the organization since early 2022. Featuring a comprehensive database full of information about voters, EagleAI claims that the program quickly combs through data and flags supposedly suspicious voter registrations. Activists can then review the flagged names and report them to election officials.
While the program is said to run at a rapid pace, EagleAI is being run by inexperienced activists with unreliable data.
EagleAI was founded in July 2022 and developed by Rick Richards, a former Georgia physician, and his son, John Richards. Neither have election experience according to the liberal investigative group Documented, which reported extensively on the existence of the program in conjunction with NBC News.
The group’s database of voters is sourced from state-provided data as well as data provided by the program itself. Sources like voting rolls, voter history and business data come from states, while “rooftop and street pictures,” funeral homes and latitudes and longitudes of addresses are among the data provided by EagleAI. The software is also said to interact with the Voter Reference Foundation (VoteRef), a Republican group that dangerously publishes voter information online.
The reliance on public data is contrary to ERIC, which uses confidential government-provided data that is far more accurate.
This data is used by the program, self-described as “excel on steroids” to automatically flag registrations thought to be suspicious. An internal planning document says the data sets are “quickly and efficiently” put together and compared by the program, which then “points out registration irregularities that then needs evaluation, confirmation and resolution by… County Department of Elections staff and Boards of Election members.”
Once flagged, the registrations are then evaluated by activists who can submit the registrations to local officials to be challenged. According to Documented’s reporting, a March 2023 demonstration illustrated how the platform could “auto-fill voter challenge forms, attach supporting material, and then time the submission until ten days before the election board’s next meeting.” A vigilante then only needs to click a button for the challenges to automatically be sent to an election board.
Cleta Mitchell and her Election Integrity Network are pushing the program to activists and potential government suitors.
The March demonstration was delivered to the Election Integrity Network (EIN), which was founded by election denier,vote suppressor and lawyer for former President Donald Trump, Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell and EIN have been teaching Republican activists across the country how to use EagleAI, and activists affiliated with the group have been setting up meetings with election officials to push the program.
Documented reported that Mitchell has additionally been tasked with providing legal and strategic guidance for EagleAI. That guidance has increased as the group evolved, with Mitchell reported to be developing the national rollout plan for the program in conjunction with Richards. She is also connected to the group that guided Valid Vote, a nonprofit associated with EagleAI, to its tax-exempt status.
EagleAI is a poor solution to a manufactured problem.
What EagleAI falsely claims to be able to do accurately, ERIC has already been doing for over a decade. Election officials in seven states founded the bipartisan voter roll organization in 2012, citing the absence of an effective way to ensure clean voter rolls nationwide. Further demonstrating the need for a system like ERIC, a study released the year the program launched found that 1 of 8 voter registrations were inaccurate or invalid.
States opt in to the coalition, and submit voter registration and department of motor vehicle data to ERIC every 60 days. This confidential, government-provided data allows for ERIC to cross check voter rolls, subsequently resulting in list maintenance reports that are used to clean up registrations. The database worked, finding more than 39 million out-of-date or inaccurate records since its founding. By 2021, membership had ballooned to dozens of states and Washington, D.C., and for years the database was widely uncontroversial.
That was until January 2022, when an article on the Gateway Pundit, a far-right news outlet, sparked a cascade of Republican departures from the coalition. The article made numerous false claims about the database, including its security and organizational purpose.
Just a week after the article’s release, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin (R) announced the state’s departure from ERIC and a multitude of Republican-led states subsequently followed, including Alabama, Florida and Ohio. In total, nine states have now left or announced their departure from the database.
With these nine states devoid of an effective way to ensure accurate voter rolls, all done needlessly at their own hands, a replacement to ERIC is now necessary. While Alabama has unveiled the Alabama Voter Integrity Database and a handful of states have announced new partnerships, EagleAI is pitching itself as a prime alternative.
EagleAI could take dangerous election vigilantism to new heights.
According to Documented, EagleAI could provide for some of the most dangerous and widespread election vigilantism yet, with the capability to generate thousands of challenges to voter eligibility “with a few clicks.” The program has already been reported to have found fertile ground among grassroots activists, which, in conjunction with the rapid challenge abilities, could quickly deplete resources, time and energy from election workers.
There is also concern that the program could be discriminatory in nature. One of the reasons that a registration could be flagged is if the address listed is where “vulnerable community homes” are located, according to NBC News. Examples of these homes include nursing homes and homeless shelters.
Highlighting the nationwide trend of election vigilantism, Fair Fight spokeswoman Xakota Espinoza described the efforts as “part of a broader nationwide strategy to make administering elections more difficult while intimidating and harassing voters the GOP deems undesirable.”
Dangerous election vigilantism has been rapidly increasing in recent years, especially in states like Arizona and Georgia, where armed vigilantes staked out drop boxes and a single voter challenged the eligibility of thousands of voters, respectively.
Just last week, VoteBeat reported on an Arizona elections official who was inundated with public records requests in a “virtual manhunt” perpetrated by Republican activists.
In Georgia, vigilantes have been taking advantage of the state’s 2021 omnibus voter suppression law, which made mass voter challenges significantly easier. Beyond the 13,000 voters challenged by a man in Forsyth County, Georgia another voter, Jason Frazier, challenged nearly 10,000 voters. Frazier himself has been used as a springboard for EagleAI, with Richards saying the group has taken inspiration from algorithms used by Frazier.
And on Thursday, the New York attorney general’s office sent a cease-and-desist letter to a group accused of impersonating election officials and going door-to-door in 13 counties, where they confronted voters regarding their registration status and incorrectly accused voters of committing a crime.
While EagleAI is just the latest example of right-wing election vigilantism, it could be an especially worrisome one. With the Republican grassroots enthusiastically behind the project, conversions already underway in certain states and a rapidly-operating program working in conjunction with dangerous state laws, the threat of EagleAI should not be taken lightly.