In 2022 and 2023, several Republican-led states withdrew from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan data-sharing consortium used by dozens of states and the District of Columbia to keep voter rolls up to date. The withdrawals were spurred by conspiracy theories about ERIC circulated by and among far-right activists and so-called “election integrity” groups beholden to former President Donald Trump’s false claims that the 2020 election was rigged.
The deference to misinformation is especially confounding in this case, as experts have pointed out that the withdrawals are weakening one of states’ best tools for secure election administration. Even prominent voter-fraud alarmist J. Christian Adams claimed that the “crazy zeal to get out of ERIC … is going to cause voter fraud to flourish.” And many of the same secretaries of states abandoning the program had once praised its effectiveness.
American Oversight is investigating the far-right, conspiracy-fueled campaign for states to disenroll from ERIC, filing more than a dozen public records requests for state officials’ related communications, including with anti-ERIC activists and election deniers.
The misinformation campaign can be traced to a January 2022 article on the right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit that was laden with false information about ERIC’s security and its purpose in maintaining accurate records, as well as bogus claims that the organization was funded by billionaire George Soros. (ERIC received start-up funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts and is funded by member-states that voluntarily entered the consortium; it also uses strict, regularly reviewed protocols to safely handle personal data.)
Just a week after the article was published, Louisiana became the first state to withdraw from ERIC. In his announcement of his state’s exit — which NPR reported he had first shared with a group of far-right activists — Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin cited those false reports about funding and supposed partisan purposes.
The backlash to ERIC was embraced by those at the forefront of the election denial movement, including conservative attorney Cleta Mitchell. Mitchell, who was closely involved in Trump’s effort to overturn the 2020 election, has played a central role in the creation of a nationwide network of election denial activists and has used her platform to rally activists against ERIC. Mitchell is also known for decrying measures designed to make it easier for people to vote, and another target of conservative activists was ERIC’s requirement that member states send postcards with registration information to eligible voters — “bloating the rolls,” as election denial activist Heather Honey claimed. Honey, who worked on the discredited election “audit” in Arizona, began working with Mitchell on anti-ERIC efforts in the summer of 2022, as detailed by NPR.
Other states followed Louisiana’s lead, with officials citing the same false claims. Alabama withdrew from ERIC in November 2022 at the instruction of newly elected Secretary of State Wes Allen, who had campaigned on disenrolling from ERIC. In March 2023, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced that Ohio was also leaving ERIC, claiming the organization “appears to favor only the interests of one political party.” Just the month before, LaRose had called ERIC “one of the best fraud-fighting tools that we have” and said it had “provided great benefit for us and we’re going to continue to use it.”
Florida, Missouri, and West Virginia also announced plans to leave ERIC in March 2023. In a press release, Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd said the tool didn’t do enough to secure data privacy or “eliminate ERIC’s partisan tendencies.” When Virginia became the eighth state to leave ERIC in April, the state’s commissioner of elections cited concerns about other states’ recent withdrawals among the reasons. Emails obtained by NPR show that staff in Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft’s office had previously called the Gateway Pundit article “horrible and misleading” and said they were “glad to be part of ERIC.”
American Oversight has requested the release of any communications top state officials may have had about the decision to disenroll, as well any records that could reflect the states’ plans for accurately maintaining voting registration rolls after departing from ERIC.
In Louisiana, we requested the release of any communications the office of Secretary of State Ardoin may have had about ERIC since November 2021. We also requested the release of any communications Ardoin may have had with officials in other states that have withdrawn or considered withdrawing from ERIC.
In Florida and Missouri, we requested travel and communication records related to both states’ attendance at a 2022 “secretaries of state conference” in Washington, D.C. The conference was organized by the conservative Heritage Foundation, which spends millions creating and promoting model bills aimed at restricting voting rights.
We have also requested the release of any communications that may exist between states that have withdrawn from ERIC and several prominent conservative organizations that have spread misinformation or encouraged states to withdraw from the consortium.