On Thursday, American Oversight sued Louisiana Secretary of State R. Kyle Ardoin and Ohio Secretary Frank LaRose for the release of records that could shed light on their states’ withdrawals from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) as well as other records relating to voting rights and access.
Ardoin’s and LaRose’s offices failed to adequately respond to requests filed by American Oversight in 2022 and 2023 seeking a range of documents, including communications surrounding their states’ withdrawals from ERIC, a bipartisan data-sharing consortium used by dozens of states and the District of Columbia to keep voter rolls up to date. Over the past year, far-right activists and so-called “election integrity” groups have elevated conspiracy theories about ERIC, leading to several states withdrawing from a system that had been widely praised — including by conservative leaders — just months before.
American Oversight is represented by Lori Mince of Fishman Haygood LLP in Louisiana and by John C. Greiner of Faruki PLL in Ohio.
“The push to leave ERIC exposes the depths to which conservative leaders are still beholden to the election deniers who are putting our democracy at risk by spreading lies and pushing to make voting harder,” said American Oversight Executive Director Heather Sawyer. “ERIC is an incredibly valuable tool for maintaining up-to-date voter lists, and even Secretary LaRose praised its effectiveness before bowing to political pressure to withdraw. The people of Louisiana and Ohio deserve to know more about their elected officials’ decisions to abandon ERIC.”
Louisiana was the first state to pull out of ERIC, with Ardoin reportedly announcing the decision in January 2022 to a group of conservative activists. ERIC had become a target of election deniers thanks to misleading articles published by a popular right-wing website days before. When asked publicly by American Oversight to explain what concerns prompted his state to leave ERIC, Ardoin said, “No comment.”
Since Louisiana’s departure, seven other Republican-led states have exited the collaboration, weakening one of the best tools to identify voter-roll irregularities and secure election administration. In March 2023, LaRose announced that Ohio too would abandon ERIC, despite his previous praise for the system, calling it “one of the best fraud fighting tools we have.” Just a month before, he had told NPR that he hoped the “noise” and conspiracy theories would soon “die down” and that other states would rejoin.
The backlash to ERIC has been embraced by those at the forefront of the election denial movement, including conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell, who have focused on baseless concerns about data privacy and conspiracy theories about left-wing funding sources. Activists have also targeted ERIC’s requirement that states must send registration information to eligible voters.
In addition to communications that could shed light on Ardoin’s decision to leave ERIC, American Oversight also requested that the Louisiana Department of State release communications with U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson, a vocal election denier, as well as records from a December 2021 meeting of the Louisiana Voting Systems Commission attended by Ardoin. Among the speakers at the meeting was Phil Waldron, who had assisted in former President Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election. Those requests were filed in May 2022.
American Oversight’s lawsuit against LaRose seeks to compel the release of communications and assessments related to Ohio’s ERIC withdrawal, as well as communications about election-related data and about the fringe independent state legislature theory, which was embraced by Trump allies in the attempt to overturn the election. As the lawsuit details, LaRose’s office has engaged in a pattern of responding to American Oversight’s requests “with a near-boilerplate denial or request for clarification.”
The steady abandonment of ERIC is an alarming new tactic in the election denial playbook. In an attempt to score political points, Republican state election leaders are caving to disinformation and in the process weakening systems that support election security and U.S. democracy. You can find more information about American Oversight’s investigation into the push for states to leave ERIC here. Today’s filings can be found here and here.
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