How a red-state exodus from an interstate voter database may impact Colorado voter rolls
Former GOP secretary of state helped pioneer ERIC system to combat alleged election fraud
Election workers process ballots at the Arapahoe County Elections Facility in Littleton, on Nov. 3, 2020. (Carl Payne for Colorado Newsline)
Just over a decade ago, Colorado’s Republican secretary of state helped pioneer an interstate voter database he claimed would cut down on fraud. Now officials in Republican states across the country are ditching the system at the urging of election deniers, who have instead baselessly claimed that the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is part of a liberal plot to rig elections.
Since 2012, ERIC has helped elections officials keep accurate track of registered voters across the United States. The group’s 30 members share data about voters and motor vehicle registrations, which is analyzed along with federal death data and change-in-address data to corroborate how many voters are in which states. Members use this data to update voter rolls, remove dead and ineligible voters, investigate potential illegal voting and provide information to individuals who may be eligible to vote.
But earlier this month, Florida, Missouri and West Virginia became the latest Republican-led states to announce they would begin the process of leaving the voter group, after weeks of negotiations aimed at reforming the group failed. In the lead-up to conservative-led states wanting out of ERIC, election deniers have spread misinformation about what the registration center does, leading to Executive Director Shane Hamlin releasing a statement explicitly outlining ERIC’s role in voter registration.
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“ERIC is never connected to any state’s voter registration system,” he said. “Members retain complete control over their voter rolls and they use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws.”
Many claims of fraud have been vocalized by former President Donald Trump and his allies, who accuse ERIC of being a registration vehicle for Democrats that received money from liberal billionaire George Soros. Last week, Trump encouraged Republican governors to sever ties with ERIC, saying it “pumps the rolls” for Democrats.
Without ERIC, experts fear that states could face serious repercussions to their voter registration systems, with more inaccurate voter rolls that could reduce the ability to detect instances of election fraud like double-voting. As a result, states could see longer voting lines during elections, more undeliverable mail and increased time to count ballots, according to David Becker, director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research and an outgoing ERIC board member.
“ERIC has helped over 30 states correct 35 million records of voters who had moved, cleaned 1 million duplicate records and remove over 500,000 dead voters from voter lists,” he wrote on Twitter last week. “Attacks on ERIC are part of a larger campaign to weaken democracy, as election officials continue to face threats and harassment.”
‘Election integrity’ efforts
Law enforcement agencies and experts agree that voter fraud is extremely rare. A 2021 AP investigation examined “every potential case of voter fraud” in six battleground states in the 2020 election and found fewer than 475 suspect ballots out of 25.5 million cast. Trump’s own attorney general affirmed in December 2020 that federal investigators did not uncover fraud “on a scale that could have effected a different outcome in the election.”
Long before the rise of 2020 election conspiracy theories, however, Republican claims of widespread fraud helped motivate Colorado and six other states to become founding members of ERIC in 2012.
Scott Gessler, a Republican who served one term as Colorado’s secretary of state from 2011 to 2015, told the AP that the nation’s patchwork of voter registration systems was a “precursor to potential fraud” and touted ERIC as an important tool for “increasing election integrity.”
In 2013, Gessler announced that he had forwarded 155 suspected cases of voter fraud to local district attorneys across Colorado. Only four people were charged, and prosecutors ultimately only secured a single conviction. Gessler has since echoed Trump’s baseless claims that the 2020 election was stolen.
With the three Republican states last week increasing the number of departures to five, Colorado should be largely unaffected, with a few caveats, officials say.
Voter registration will remain the same in the state, according to a spokesperson from the secretary of state’s office. Colorado’s automatic voter registration system will continue to enroll eligible voters and update voters’ addresses when they complete address changes through the DMV, and follow all federal laws pertaining to voter list maintenance.
“The department receives a monthly report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment and an extra mid-month list leading up to every election that alters counties to people who have died and should be removed from voter rolls,” the spokesperson said. “Further, the voter roll is compared to lists at the Department of Corrections, the Department of Health, the Department of Motor Vehicles and the federal SAVES system to ensure accurate information.”
As for how this could impact future elections in the state, Colorado will no longer receive out-of-state mover data from states that have left ERIC. It also won’t receive potential double-voter reports from those states following each election.
But elections experts fear that with more states potentially leaving ERIC, state voter databases could become more inaccurate over time, leading to higher rates of fraud or inaccuracies.
Colorado has no plans to leave ERIC at this time, the secretary of state’s office said.
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