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Missouri Pulls Out of Voter Registration System

The state is among a handful of Republican-leaning states that have pulled out of the national system designed to improve voting roll accuracy known as ERIC. Many are skeptical that Missouri’s next efforts will be as efficient.

(TNS) — When Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft and officials in a handful of other Republican-leaning states left a national system designed to improve the accuracy of voting rolls last week, the likely GOP candidate for governor outlined his grievances.

Ashcroft alleged the Electronic Information Registration Information Center, commonly called ERIC, had refused to require member states to participate in multi-state efforts to address voter fraud and had focused on adding names to voter rolls by requiring solicitations to individuals who had already had the opportunity to register, among other complaints. He has faced criticism from Democrats and election experts for his decision.

But what comes after ERIC is less clear.

In an interview with The Star, Ashcroft downplayed the possibility that he or election officials from the other breakaway states – which include Louisiana, Alabama, Florida and West Virginia – would move quickly to form an alternative program. He instead spoke broadly about how Missouri and other states are likely to focus on their own efforts while remaining in communication.

“I think you’re going to see a lot of states that will talk to each other but really looking at solutions that can be done entirely or 95 percent, 98 percent done by the state so that if there is data that is transferred between states it’s a much, much drastically smaller amount that’s transferred,” Ashcroft said.

Ashcroft said Missouri will work with states “not through a large conglomeration but on a one-to-one basis.”

ERIC, which until recently counted more than 30 states as members, is a nonprofit organization formed in 2012 that analyzes voter registration, motor vehicle department and other data to help maintain accurate data rolls and eliminate duplicate registrations. The data is also used to identify individuals who are potentially eligible to vote but haven’t registered. States retain control of their voter rolls, which are not connected to ERIC.

Some election experts question how effective Missouri’s solo and one-on-one efforts will be. Rick Hasen, a professor and director of the Safeguarding Democracy Project at the UCLA School of Law, said he expects more double voting will occur in ERIC’s absence.

Under ERIC, it is much easier for states to identify individuals registered in two states, Hasen said. The system also includes safeguards to ensure different people with the same name are not removed from voter rolls.

“Without ERIC, either more voters are going to face disenfranchisement (and states will face new lawsuits if that risk is there) or more voters are going to vote in more than one state in an election,” Hasen said in an email. “There is no easy substitute. Having states ‘talk to each other’ without a formal mechanism with safeguards is unlikely to work.”

Brianna Lennon, the Democratic clerk of Boone County, said without ERIC her office will have to revert back to relying on the U.S. Postal Service to provide information about when voters die or move out of state.

“It’s still a very inefficient process. So that’s what we’re going to have to go back to,” Lennon said.

Asked whether leaving ERIC increases the risk of voter fraud going undetected, Ashcroft said the risk already exists. He blamed the fact that five of eight states bordering Missouri aren’t members and accused some member states of refusing to provide information needed to search for fraud.

“It was more aspirational to be able to do that well with ERIC,” Ashcroft said. “And I had hoped to make that what it could be and states that were supposedly about running good, clean elections didn’t want to be part of allowing us to find people that were intentionally cheating.”

Shane Hamlin, ERIC’s director, said in an open letter that the group “will remain focused on our mission by providing our members with actionable data they can use to keep their voter rolls more accurate, investigate potential illegal activity, and offer voter registration information to those who may need it.”

Marilyn McLeod, president of the League of Women Voters of Missouri, expressed concern over Ashcroft’s decision.

“This database is very helpful. We know it’s been used to clean up the rolls,” McLeod said.

The recent departures from ERIC reflect how some Republicans are abandoning the idea that a centralized cross-state system can serve as a powerful check against fraud. Republican attitudes toward elections have shifted in recent years, especially following former President Donald Trump’s false claims of fraud in the 2020 presidential election. Conspiracy theories involving elaborate vote-rigging plots have also fueled fears related to any perceived centralized control of elections.

In late February, Freedom Principle Missouri, which describes itself as promoting a “Make America Great Again” agenda, urged Ashcroft to leave ERIC.

“Missourians saw what happened in 2020 and 2022 as our election process was shaken to its core. Our republic depends on our ability to elect who represents us, and Missouri’s participation in the ERIC system puts this under threat,” the group’s president, Byron Keelin, wrote.

Without offering evidence, Trump last week urged state officials to pull out of ERIC. Trump, writing on his social media site Truth Social, called the organization a “terrible Voter Registration System that ‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up. It is a fools game for Republicans.”

Hard-right Republicans have not always been so apprehensive about multi-state operations.

In 2005, Republican Kansas Secretary of State Ron Thorburgh launched the Interstate Voter Registration Crosscheck along with Iowa, Missouri and Nebraska. His successor, Republican Kris Kobach, expanded the program – a free service managed by the Kansas Secretary of State’s Office. Crosscheck was essentially a database of voter registration information that at its height included information from 28 states.

But it came under heavy criticism for a high error rate as it looked for duplicate registrations across states. Kansas suspended the program in 2019 as part of a settlement with the ACLU of Kansas, which had sued on behalf of voters whose partial Social Security numbers were exposed by Florida officials.

By then Kobach, currently the state attorney general, had left the secretary of state’s office and his successor, Kansas Secretary of State Scott Schwab, agreed not to resume the program until security upgrades recommended by the Department of Homeland Security were implemented. Kansas doesn’t belong to ERIC, either.

Schwab, a Republican who has pushed back aggressively on election conspiracy theories, has shown no interest in revisiting Crosscheck. Asked whether Schwab has considered reviving the program given the departures from ERIC, spokeswoman Whitney Tempel flatly said “no.”

In the interview, Ashcroft questioned the viability of the Crosscheck model.

“It was free and when you’re not paying for a service that’s generally going to affect the level of service that you get,” Ashcroft said.

©2023 The Kansas City Star. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
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