States must support this effective tool that keeps voter registrations up-to-date

Some on the far right are spreading disinformation against ERIC, a valuable system helps states maintain accurate voting lists and prevent voter fraud.

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Clipboards with voter registration forms sit on a table on Election Day, Nov. 3, 2020, at the United Center sports complex, a super voting site in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast/AP

You’d think a system that makes the records of who can vote as accurate as possible would be popular with everyone. You would be wrong.

Some people on the far right are attacking a tool named the Election Registration Information Center, which efficiently cleans outdated information from the voting rolls. Leaders in both red and blue states should quash this wrong-headed effort before it gains momentum.

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ERIC helps states share voter registration information about people who have moved from one jurisdiction to another. Tens of millions of people move from one state to another every year, but usually don’t think to inform election authorities when they leave so their registrations can be properly cancelled. By sharing information through ERIC, states can check whether to take someone off their lists of registered voters after those people register in another state. ERIC has made voting rolls more reliable and also deters potential voter fraud.

But clean voter rolls apparently don’t interest some right-wing activists looking for an excuse to claim electoral fraud when it suits them. The more efficiently ERIC functions and the more it makes elections run smoothly, the more they don’t like it. By weeding out the names of people who have died or moved to another state, for example, ERIC makes it harder to come up with fodder for wildly exaggerated claims that the election system is rigged. They also aren’t pleased that states can use data from ERIC to identity unregistered voters and encourage them to sign up.

After a right-wing blog started publishing articles saying ERIC is some kind of left-wing conspiracy, Louisiana Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin on Jan. 27 pulled his state out of ERIC eight years after joining, citing concerns raised by citizens, government watchdog organizations and media reports.

That doesn’t hurt just Louisiana. The strength of ERIC relies on having the largest number of states possible participating. If other states follow Louisiana out the door, the whole effort will be undermined. Instead, those states that have not yet joined ERIC should do so. At the moment, only 30 states and the District of Columbia are members of ERIC.

Running afoul of politics

Without ERIC, when someone moves or dies, election authorities are not automatically notified.As a result, an estimated one in eight registration records is not accurate. To fix that, ERIC compares member states’ voting records to those of other states and also to other data sources, such as vehicle, Social Security, U.S. Postal Service and other lists. Then ERIC contacts a local election authority if a voter has died or moved to another state. Election officials can follow up to confirm whether that name should be removed from its voting rolls.

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Clean election rolls are about more than election security. If voter rolls are inflated with inactive names, election authorities have to print up extra ballots, an expensive proposition when ballots can differ from precinct to precinct. Accurate voting lists also benefit political candidates, who can verify that the names on petitions they circulate are accurate — which helps prevent candidates who thought they had collected enough legal signatures on their petitions from being booted off the ballot.

This isn’t the first time a multi-state voter verification system has run afoul of politics.

In 2005, the Interstate Voter Crosscheck System was created to flag people registered in multiple states. States in Crosscheck uploaded their voter registration records to the Kansas secretary of state’s office, which compared data from various states to find duplicate registrations. Illinois joined Crosscheck in 2010.

But then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a Republican and Trump ally, was accused of using Crosscheck as a way to impose voting restrictions. States began to drop out, and in December 2019, the program was suspended indefinitely.

Fortunately, a better alternative was available. In 2012, seven states pioneered ERIC with the assistance of Pew Charitable Trusts. Illinois joined in 2016. More states have joined each year, making ERIC more and more useful.

The attacks on ERIC come as tools that enhance voting accuracy and security, such as drop-off boxes, are under attack from those who don’t want elections to run smoothly and accurately.

It’s a hopeful sign that Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill, a Republican, on Feb. 1 spoke out forcefully in defense of ERIC after an Alabama state representative who is running against him called ERIC a “Soros-funded, leftist group.” Other elected officials should speak up in defense of ERIC as well.

It’s important to resist attempts to undermine voter list maintenance. Reliable elections are a cornerstone of democracy.

Send letters to letters@suntimes.com.

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