In March 2023, a conspiracy-theory-driven campaign pushed by prominent election deniers led Missouri to withdraw from the nonpartisan Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) without an alternative in place for keeping voter rolls up to date. Now, a new state audit report is highly critical of this withdrawal.
Last week, Missouri Auditor Scott Fitzpatrick released an audit report of Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office. The report accused Ashcroft — who is running for governor — of violating state law by refusing to release to Fitzpatrick’s office cybersecurity reports on local election authorities. Fitzpatrick also criticized the decision to leave ERIC without a new system in place, raising concerns this could hamper local election authorities from their efforts to ensure accurate voter records. Secretary Ashcroft had a “responsibility to have a plan to replace that data so the office has a reliable way to ensure we don’t have dead voters registered in Missouri as we enter a major election year,” Fitzpatrick said.
Records obtained by American Oversight and detailed in our recent in-depth report, “The Campaign to Dismantle ERIC,” show that guidance about Missouri’s plans for post-ERIC voter list maintenance was not provided to local election authorities until months after the state withdrew. Election authorities and experts in Missouri were also concerned about the lack of a clear plan.
In March 2023, the state’s Association of County Clerks and Election Authorities issued a statement calling on Missouri to “pursue an alternative resource” that would give local officials the necessary tools “to ensure secure, accurate, and efficient elections,” records we obtained show. Missouri Director of Elections Chrissy Peters forwarded the email to Ashcroft and other high-level officials, writing that the secretary’s office had informed local election authorities it would partner with the Social Security Administration and National Change of Address, but that “details on these reports would come at a later date.”
Guidance about Missouri’s plan for post-ERIC list maintenance was not provided to local authorities until June — three months after its withdrawal, according to documents we obtained.
The creation of new cross-state data-sharing agreements — an effort led in part by the Ohio secretary of state’s office — seems to have begun only after Ohio and Iowa had announced the suspension of their ERIC memberships, less than two weeks after Missouri had done the same.
On March 22, 2023, Ohio Elections Director Amanda Grandjean sent an email to officials in several states, requesting the convening of a “working group of states that would like to discuss ideas for securely sharing voter history and other relevant data for the purposes of identifying and investigating potential cross-state voter fraud.” The working group met regularly between March and June 2023 — after states had already left ERIC — to review potential data sources and discuss legal options for data-sharing agreements.
The complicated web of interstate agreements aimed at replicating ERIC’s partnership, with each agreement subject to its own terms and security arrangements, included a draft memorandum of understanding between Missouri and Florida circulated on Aug. 31, 2023.
Other records we obtained reveal Missouri officials’ high-level contact with election deniers the month before the state’s withdrawal. In February 2023, activist Heather Honey emailed the secretary’s office a link for a virtual meeting to discuss ERIC and attached reports containing baseless accusations. Records we obtained reveal that she and her group Verity Vote met with the office that same month. On March 1, Honey shared National Change of Address data with Ashcroft.
In responding to the audit report, Ashcroft argued that ERIC had refused to make reforms to its system — among the targets of right-wing anti-ERIC activists was ERIC’s requirement that states reach out to unregistered but eligible voters.
These documents were obtained through public records requests and litigation, and are outlined in American Oversight’s report “The Campaign to Dismantle ERIC.”
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