Since the United States doesn’t have a database of registered voters or a national ID system, states must rely on other data sources to identify voters that have moved, died or are otherwise ineligible. In 2012, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an information-sharing database, emerged as a solution to that problem.
During its first decade of operation, ERIC was an uncontroversial, nonprofit organization that helped states maintain accurate voter rolls. But, within the past three months alone, six Republican-led states have withdrawn from the opt-in system, invoking election conspiracies and threatening the future of a system that relies on data sharing. In today’s Explainer, we explore how ERIC cleans voter rolls and depends on the cooperation of state officials.
Who governs and funds ERIC?
ERIC started in 2012 as an opt-in coalition of seven red and blue states: Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington. By the start of 2023, that number had swelled to 32 states plus Washington, D.C., with a near even split of Republican and Democratic-run states. Louisiana left ERIC at the beginning of 2022 and in the first few months of 2023, an exodus of GOP-led states followed. As of March 24, 2023, six more Republican officials have announced plans to withdraw their states from ERIC.
“The states were inspired to create ERIC due to the challenges in maintaining the accuracy of voter registration records,” the website reads. “While most private industry, and many government agencies, have updated their systems to take advantage of modern technology, voter registration systems remain largely based on 19th century tools, such as handwriting on paper forms and postal mail.”
ERIC is run by the states that opt-into its system; the chief elections official, typically the secretary of state, designates a representative to the ERIC Board of Directors. The officials on ERIC’s board can select two election experts to serve as non-voting members as well. While Pew Charitable Trusts helped finance the initial lift off of the program, member states themselves fund ERIC, paying a one-time fee plus annual membership dues that are based on the size of the state’s voting age population.
ERIC does not publicize its internal security measures, but maintains a dedicated Privacy and Technology Advisory Board. Any personal voter data is encrypted into a string of characters that is unreadable by humans. Shane Hamlin, ERIC’s executive director, told Votebeat in April 2022 that ERIC has never had a data breach.
How does ERIC help clean voter rolls?
The National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) requires states to conduct list maintenance to remove voters who have died or moved. However, ERIC itself does not make any changes to a state’s voter rolls. Instead, it helps facilitate list maintenance by giving member states data for them to utilize.
Every 60 days, member states are expected to submit voter registration and Department of Motor Vehicle licensing data to ERIC. With this data, ERIC generates four types of list maintenance reports:
- Cross-State Movers Report: voters who have moved from one ERIC state to another ERIC state.
- In-State Movers Report: voters who have moved within the same state.
- Duplicate Report: voters with duplicate registrations within the same state.
- Deceased Report: voters who have died.
It is then up to states to take action to remove voters from the voting rolls based on these lists, but the data can be imperfect. For that reason, state and federal laws include some safeguards to protect voters from unnecessary voter purges: The NVRA, for example, limits changes close to an election and outlines requirements to notify voters before removing them for changing their residence.
“ERIC is never connected to any state’s voter registration system,” Hamlin wrote recently. “Members retain complete control over their voter rolls and they use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws.”
What else does ERIC do?
ERIC’s data analysis also provides states with three other reports beyond the typical list maintenance lists:
- Eligible but Unregistered Report: individuals who appear to be eligible but who are not yet registered to vote. Member states are expected to mail individuals on this list. Hamlin told the New York Times in 2018 that follow-up research showed that 10 to 20% of those contacted later registered to vote.
- National Change of Address (NCOA) Report: voters who have moved using the U.S. Postal Service’s NCOA database.
- Voter Participation Report: voters who may have cast more than one ballot. This is an optional list that states can request to identify extremely rare instances of voter fraud.
What’s next for ERIC?
Louisiana left ERIC in early 2022. Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen (R) campaigned on a promise to withdraw from ERIC, which he followed through on in January 2023. (His predecessor fervently defended the program.) Florida, Iowa, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia all announced their exits in March 2023. Alabama’s resignation will be effective in late April. The resignations of the other five states will go into effect in June 2023.
The basis for the withdrawals vary, but they all rely on a combination of right-wing election conspiracies, vague concerns about privacy, dislike of the required outreach to eligible but unregistered voters (which former President Donald Trump says “pumps the rolls” for Democrats), the presence of a “hyper-partisan” non-voting board member and assertions that ERIC does not do enough to identify voter fraud.
On Monday, March 6, the Missouri, Florida and West Virginia secretaries of state withdrew from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC).
The recent withdrawals threaten the efficacy of ERIC as the interstate system is more accurate and effective with more states opting-in. For example, the Cross-State Movers Report only captures if someone moves from one ERIC state to another ERIC state.
“The states that remain in ERIC have bravely fought back against disinformation and election denial, and my hope is that they will continue to do so, and support their local election officials who rely upon the ERIC data, as we head into 2024,” tweeted David Becker, the Executive Director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research and the election law expert who was targeted as ERIC’s “hyper-partisan” non-voting board member. Becker announced his plans to step down from this board position and concluded, “I fear that the attacks on ERIC are part of a larger campaign to weaken democracy.”