Trio of GOP states pull out to thwart voter fraud

ST. LOUIS (AP) — Three Republican-led states on Monday pulled out of a bipartisan effort between the states to ensure accurate voter rolls, undermining a system with a proven track record in fighting voter fraud.

The moves, encouraged by former President Donald Trump, are the latest indication of how conspiracy theories surrounding the 2020 election outcome continue to permeate the Republican Party, upending long-established traditions of how the country conducts elections.

Top election officials in Florida, Missouri and West Virginia told the Electronic Registration Information Center, better known as ERIC, that they were exiting the voluntary program, which has long included both Republican- and Democrat-run states. They join Louisiana, which departed last year, and Alabama, which previously announced it would retire this year.

Florida and its 14.4 million registered voters represent a significant loss for the data-sharing group, which relies heavily on member states to compile reports on voters who may have died or relocated to another state. Its reports also help states identify and ultimately prosecute individuals who vote in multiple states.

The system has been credited in Maryland with identifying around 66,000 potentially deceased voters and 778,000 people who may have moved out of the state since 2013. In Georgia, officials said nearly 100,000 voters who were no longer eligible to vote in the state were removed based on data provided by ERIC.

But efforts to improve electoral integrity and prevent voter fraud — which Republican lawmakers and local officials commonly cite as priorities — have become a target of suspicion following a series of online posts early last year, in which their funding and their purpose were questioned. One conspiracy involves billionaire philanthropist George Soros, who has long been the target of conspiracy theories claiming he funded the voter data-sharing system.

While the system was initially funded by the non-partisan Pew Charitable Trusts, that money was separate from funding provided to Pew by a Soros-affiliated organization that was used for an independent effort, said Shane Hamlin, ERIC executive director . The effort has since been funded by annual contributions from Member States.

On Monday, Hamlin said in a statement that ERIC “on behalf of our remaining member states will continue our work to improve the accuracy of America’s electoral rolls and improve access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”

Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft said in an interview that he decided to leave after concluding that changes he had advocated would not be made and that more were unlikely to happen States around him would join the effort. Among the changes he sought were the removal of an obligation for member states to send mailings to eligible but unregistered voters and the removal of what he described as partisan influences from the program.

“I’m not against working with other states, but it has to be done in a way that’s well done and that the people of the state can trust,” Ashcroft said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I can’t imagine ERIC getting to this point.”

Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, appointed by Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, said state officials had “lost confidence in ERIC.” affect his state’s ability to maintain accurate electoral rolls.

Trump also chimed in on his social media platform Monday, urging all Republican-led states to “immediately withdraw from ERIC, the horrible voter registration system that’s ‘pumping’ Democrats and doing nothing to clean it up.”

As there is no national clearinghouse for voter registration, ERIC is the only data exchange program between states. Launched in 2012 by seven states, it has been bipartisan from the start, with four of the founding states being Republican-led. After the states officially exit, participation will drop to 28 states and the District of Columbia.

The departures have frustrated state election officials involved in the effort and highlighted how deeply voting conspiracies have run throughout the Republican Party.

“Election officials withdrawing from the ERIC primarily harm their own state’s ability to properly maintain their voter rolls,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson said in a statement to the AP on Monday. “It is strange and disturbing to me that any official would prefer to validate misinformation rather than be part of a collaboration that has the sole and established purpose of improving the integrity of our elections.”

Brad Ashwell, director of the Florida advocacy group All Voting is Local, said the governor “sacrificed the interests of conspiracy theorists” in deciding to leave ERIC.

“This is supposed to be the party of election integrity and this is the best tool they have for that,” Ashwell said.

Not all Republican-led states had reevaluated their participation in the program. In a recent AP poll, polling stations in 23 states and the District of Columbia said they had no intention of leaving the country, including eight who are Republican-led or controlled.

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, recently called it “one of the best anti-fraud tools we have.” Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, also a Republican, said ERIC is an “effective tool for ensuring the integrity” of his state’s electoral rolls. Gabriel Sterling, a senior official in the Georgia secretary of state’s office, said he recently appealed to officials from three other Republican-led states to join the system.

Meanwhile, Texas lawmakers have introduced legislation that, if passed and enacted, would require the state to exit the system. In Oklahoma, a proposed law would bar the state from joining.

Lawmakers in California, Kansas and New Hampshire have introduced bills that would allow their states to join him, according to the Voting Rights Lab, which tracks state election legislation. New York is another populous state that is not currently a member.


Cassidy reported from Atlanta. Associated Press writer Anthony Izaguirre in Tallahassee, Florida contributed to this report. Trio of GOP states pull out to thwart voter fraud

Sarah Y. Kim

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