AP Photo/Butch Dill
- Alabama’s top elections official is withdrawing the state from a nonprofit known as ERIC.
- ERIC helps more than 30 states identify voters who may be registered in more than one jurisdiction.
- The group has been targeted by conspiracy theorists who falsely claim it is funded by George Soros.
Spurred by misinformation and false claims about the billionaire philanthropist George Soros, the state of Alabama’s top elections official this week announced he was pulling out of a group that helps prevent voter fraud, despite himself claiming the last presidential election was marred by it.
Since 2020, conspiracy theorists who maintain that the vote was rigged against former President Donald Trump have shifted from villain to villain, singling out everything from the makers of voting machines to the state of Italy. The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is the latest target.
Founded in 2012, ERIC began as a collaboration by election officials in seven states, four of them Republican. It collects data from motor vehicle departments and voter rolls from its members — now more than 30, including several deeply red states — and, among other things, identify individuals who may be registered to vote in more than one state.
In 2022, ERIC helped members uncover more than 203,000 duplicate entries for potential voters and remove more than 65,000 deceased persons from their rolls, according to statistics released by the organization.
A powerful outlier
Officials, including Republicans, have credited the organization with helping clean up their voter lists and prevent fraudulent votes. But Wes Allen, elected to be Alabama’s Secretary of State last fall, wants out.
“I made a promise to the people of Alabama that ending our state’s relationship with the ERIC organization would be my first official act as Secretary of State,” the former Republican state legislator said in a statement, issued a day after he was sworn in on January 16. He framed the decision as a matter of privacy, saying he objected to “[p]roviding the private information of Alabama citizens, including underage minors, to an out-of-state organization.”
A former state legislator, Allen was dubbed an “election denier” by the States United Democracy Center, a bipartisan group that promotes election integrity, over his support for overturning the results of the 2020 election.
In an interview last year with The Birmingham News, Allen claimed that Alabama’s own election was clean — Trump won the state in a landslide — but questioned the “chaos and confusion” elsewhere, telling the newspaper that it is “vital that Americans know that only legal ballots are being cast and that the ballots are being counted in a legal way.”
Nevertheless, Allen has chosen to withdraw Alabama from the only organization that allows states to clean up their voter rolls by removing those who have moved away to other jurisdictions, helping prevent anyone from casting a ballot in more than one place.
His official statement announcing the decision was a significantly watered-down version of what he said before taking office. In a statement on his 2022 campaign website, since deleted, he offered more red meat for Republican primary voters, falsely describing ERIC as a “Soros-funded, leftist group.”
“Soros can take his minions and his database and troll someone else because Alabamians are going to be off limits – permanently,” Allen said in the post.
Allen’s office did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.
Where the misinformation came from
Although it is now funded entirely by state membership dues, the Pew Charitable Trusts provided ERIC its initial start-up funding, which is the dot-connecting basis for the Soros claim: the billionaire’s own nonprofit once provided a $500,000 grant to Pew, accounting for just over 1/100th of a percent of the charity’s annual funding.
Last year, the organization emerged from obscurity to become the latest boogeyman of the far-right internet. The stories attacking the organization are heavy on insinuation, but the crux was expressed by a writer for The American Conservative, who charged that the group was a radical-left front group using the guise of combatting fraud to pursue a “get-out-the-vote agenda” on the taxpayers’ dime.
ERIC itself does not register any voters. And because those who might be eligible to vote are identified via data from motor vehicle departments, federal privacy laws prevent the organization from sharing its list without anyone but state governments, which mail out postcards to those who have been flagged.
The false claims were enough, however, to prompt Louisiana’s own Republican secretary of state to announce last year that he was suspending participation in ERIC, a spokesperson telling the news site Votebeat it was due to “numerous” concerns over “election stuff.”
These, however, are outliers, even among right-wing politicians.
John Merrill, Alabama’s previous secretary of state and himself a conservative Republican, told The Alabama Political Reporter that “this continued narrative of ERIC being a George Soros system is untrue. ERIC was not founded nor funded by George Soros, and to claim otherwise is either dishonest or misinformed.”
‘A key tool for election integrity’
That the group is a “Soros-funded, leftist group” would be news to the state of Texas, which joined ERIC a few months before the 2020 election. Sam Taylor, a spokesperson for Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, a Republican, told Insider that, when it comes to cleaning up voter rolls, there is literally no alternative as it’s the “only such cross-check program in existence.”
“Texas has used the valuable data that ERIC provides to identify duplicate cross-state voter registrations, voters who have potentially cast a ballot in Texas and another state, and potential votes cast in the name of deceased individuals,” Taylor said, calling the organization “a key tool for election integrity in Texas.”
Merrill was happy with what he saw from ERIC in his 8 years in office.
The secretary’s job “is to ensure election integrity,” he told Insider, “and when you’re trying to ensure election integrity, you have to evaluate all the options that are available to you in order to continue to try to provide the safest, most secure environment for transparency and accountability that can be provided.”
Merrill, the former head of Alabama’s Republican Party and now a private citizen, was circumspect when asked about his successor’s decision and whether it will make it more difficult to prevent fraud in his state.
“I trust that what he’s done is he’s evaluated the merits of the relationship that the state has with ERIC, and that he has determined that it’s in the best interest of the people of the state of Alabama to separate,” Merrill told Insider.
As for ERIC, Shane Hamlin, the group’s executive director, told Insider it will honor Allen’s resignation request, although under the group’s bylaws it won’t become official until April. With or without Alabama, he said, ERIC will continue to focus on “improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”
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