The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ohio joins GOP-led states withdrawing from group that helps clean up voter rolls

The decision adds to the ranks of states exiting as the Electronic Registration Information Center faces criticism from election deniers.

A voter casts a ballot at a polling place in a student activity center at Ohio State University in Columbus on Nov. 8. (Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post)
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Ohio became the latest Republican-led state on Friday to quit a little-known data-sharing consortium that has helped keep voter rolls nationwide updated and free of opportunities for fraud but has recently come under attack from election deniers spreading misinformation about its role.

In a letter to the organization, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced his plans to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), as the consortium is known. Ohio joins five other Republican-led states — Louisiana, Alabama, West Virginia, Missouri and Florida — that have exited over the past year. Four have announced their departures this month alone, raising questions about the group’s future.

LaRose cited the defeat of proposed changes during a meeting of the organization’s membership on Friday that he said would have improved security protocols for sensitive data and eliminated alleged partisanship from the group’s governance.

“ERIC has chosen repeatedly to ignore demands to embrace reforms that would bolster confidence in its performance, encourage growth in its membership, and ensure not only its present stability but also its durability,” LaRose wrote in a letter to ERIC announcing his decision. “Rather, you have chosen to double-down on poor strategic decisions, which have only resulted in the transformation of a previously bipartisan organization to one that appears to favor only the interests of one political party.”

The states’ departures come amid a steady stream of misinformation from election deniers — including former president Donald Trump — who have claimed without evidence that the group is a left-wing vehicle that shares sensitive voter data with liberal groups, encourages bloated and inaccurate rolls, and enables the very fraud it is intended to stamp out. Some of those exiting have also criticized ERIC’s requirement that member states encourage voter registration by contacting eligible but unregistered residents.

ERIC’s remaining members deny the accusations, countering that the organization’s collapse would eliminate one of the most powerful tools for keeping ballot fraud at bay just as states are beginning to prepare for the 2024 election calendar.

Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, one of the few Republican elected officials publicly defending the organization, said the other states’ withdrawal “all but guarantees” that their rolls will become less reliable and less accurate.

“Many of those states have been lucky enough to avoid the heavy scrutiny of a close, contentious election in recent years, as Georgia faced,” Raffensperger said. “But if Florida faces another election like it did in 2000, it will be wishing it had kept every tool available to make sure its voter rolls can be trusted.”

Four of the Republicans who opted to pull their states out of ERIC are expected to seek the GOP nomination for higher office next year — prompting some critics to accuse them of pandering to Republican voters who believe that the 2020 election was rigged, and perhaps to Trump himself.

The former president has become a leading peddler of unproven claims about ERIC, describing it on his social media platform, Truth Social, in early March as “the terrible Voter Registration System that ‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up.”

LaRose is widely expected to run for the U.S. Senate seat held by Democrat Sherrod Brown. Secretaries of state in West Virginia and Missouri — Mac Warner and Jay Ashcroft — are expected to run for governor. And Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who has oversight over election administration there, is expected to seek his party’s nomination for president.

“This entire controversy is fueled by easily debunked misinformation and a newfound desire by some member states wanting to opt out of sending eligible citizens information on how to register to vote,” Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson (D) said in a text message. “It’s notable that the states at the forefront of these attacks are led by Republican politicians who are likely seeking higher office and are actively trying to curry favor from their party’s extremists and, in most cases, Trump himself.”

ERIC was set up to help states implement sound voter-roll practices while keeping Republicans and Democrats happy in a realm fraught with mutual suspicions.

The organization compiles expensive change-of-address data from the U.S. Postal Service, death records from the Social Security Administration, and members’ own motor vehicle records and voter data. The consortium uses that information to produce reports for member states to help them remove from their rolls people who have died or moved. Voter participation data can be used to identify and prosecute those who have double-voted across state lines.

Members also are required to send a postcard to eligible, unregistered voters in their state encouraging them to register to vote.

The point of the two prongs of ERIC’s mission was to give incentives to both Republicans, who tend to emphasize rigorous list maintenance, and Democrats, who focus on encouraging voter registration, to join the organization. By early 2022, 34 states, spanning a wide range of political ideologies, had joined the consortium.

Last year, Louisiana was the first to pull out of ERIC, citing unproven security concerns raised in right-wing media. Alabama followed in January.

Earlier this month, three more states — Florida, Missouri and West Virginia — pulled out. In addition, Texas is considering legislation that would require it to exit ERIC, and its secretary of state has begun the process of building its own, internal list-maintenance program.

Less clear is what will happen in two other states, North Carolina and Oklahoma, that were considering joining ERIC this year. In North Carolina, Republican lawmakers have introduced legislation blocking those plans. And Oklahoma officials have indicated a desire to partner with Texas’s new list-maintenance program.

Several supporters said ERIC is unlikely to collapse because many Democratic states, and a few Republican ones, remain committed to it, as do the six states where Trump contested his defeat in 2020. In addition, the group may gain a giant this year — California — which is considering legislation requiring it to join. Its neighbors, including Arizona and Nevada, have championed the possibility because so many people move across California’s border each year and the wealth of data from the nation’s most populous state would provide a boost to list-maintenance efforts.

“In a few years, ERIC partner states like Arizona, Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump focuses so much of his post-2020 frustration, will have cleaner voter rolls by far than the red states that have withdrawn from the organization,” Raffensperger said.