The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Republicans enable voter fraud in the name of fighting it

Former president Donald Trump speaks during an event at the Adler Theatre in Davenport, Iowa, on Monday. (Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)
5 min

A 59-year-old man was arrested last week for allegedly double voting in the 2020 presidential election. Florida authorities brought the felony charge because of information submitted by Virginia to a national database called ERIC, which is short for the Electronic Registration Information Center. The very same day, Florida pulled out of the fraud detection consortium, along with Missouri and West Virginia, capitulating for political reasons to bizarre conspiracy theories peddled by those who still claim that former president Donald Trump won reelection in 2020.

If Republicans are serious about protecting election integrity and the rule of law, they’d celebrate ERIC as the enormous success it has been in helping states clean up their voter rolls by identifying people who have died or moved, as well as those who have cast ballots in multiple states. But other red states might soon head for the exits, causing the system to collapse — and making ballot fraud harder to detect next year.

The nonprofit association, which is led by its own members, formed in 2012 after a report showed that one in eight voter registrations across the country were no longer valid. Four of the seven charter members were Republican-led states. By last year, 34 states plus D.C. had joined — including the six tightest presidential battlegrounds. The system compiles voter participation records from member states along with change-of-address records from the U.S. Postal Service and death records from the Social Security Administration. The pooling of information has identified more than 11.5 million people who have moved across state lines and over 60 million potential voters who are unregistered.

After a decade of operating in near-obscurity, lies about ERIC began bubbling up from the fever swamps, such as that George Soros was behind the project and that the initiative is a left-wing plot to add more racial minorities to the voter rolls. The basis for this claim is that states agree when they join to send postcards every two years to people, whom the system identifies as eligible but unregistered to vote, with information on how they can sign up.

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Eventually, Mr. Trump demanded on social media that states drop out. Louisiana was the first to quit last year. Alabama’s new Republican secretary of state campaigned last year on leaving ERIC and withdrew on his second day in office.

When Florida joined the system in 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) touted ERIC’s ability to keep the state’s voter rolls up to date and boasted that “it will increase voter participation.” Last summer, Mr. DeSantis touted the system by name as a critical tool in his efforts to prosecute anyone who illegally voted. The Office of Election Crimes and Security, which Mr. DeSantis created, said in a January report that ERIC had identified more than 1,000 voters who might have cast ballots in Florida and another member state.

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But in an effort to pander to the GOP base ahead of a likely 2024 presidential bid, the DeSantis administration has shifted. Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, a DeSantis appointee, now claims without evidence that ERIC doesn’t do enough to secure data and that the group has “partisan tendencies.”

It’s no coincidence that the secretaries of state of West Virginia and Missouri, which also pulled out last week, are looking to run in competitive GOP primaries for governor next year. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is considering his own U.S. Senate bid next year, says that he and six more GOP secretaries might withdraw next unless “reforms” are made.

Carol Beecher, Alaska’s director of elections, told her state legislature last week that she’s evaluating whether to pull out of ERIC because “it’s expensive and we are a small state.” What she didn’t say, according to the Anchorage Daily News, is that the state’s fees and dues have been less than $17,000 annually in recent years. That’s a bargain.

More than two dozen Republican luminaries, including lawyer Ben Ginsberg and Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, signed a letter of support on Monday, pushing back against accusations that David Becker, an ex officio, nonvoting member of ERIC’s board, has connections to Mr. Soros. ERIC is funded entirely through dues set, and paid, by member states.

Representatives of the states that make up ERIC are scheduled to meet Friday to discuss its future. Mr. Becker announced Tuesday that he will not accept renomination to the board as his term expires this week. That he felt compelled to take this step is disappointing. Leaders of goodwill in both parties should find a way to continue the group’s important work to both encourage registration and combat fraud.

The attacks on the database aren’t really about ERIC. They’re part of a broader, multiyear campaign to bully elections officials. Demagogues have planted seeds of doubt in the minds of Americans that their votes don’t count. Now many of these same people are trying to destroy one of the country’s best tools for fighting the rare cases of voter fraud that do occur.

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