Baseless attacks on voter-registration partnership weaken us all

Baseless attacks on voter-registration partnership weaken us all

By Secretary of State Steve Hobbs

A one-of-a-kind national resource for state elections leaders like me is being torn apart by partisanship and misinformation. The voters of Washington are worse off for it.

Like dozens of states, Washington’s elections rely on collaboration to help keep our voter rolls valid and guard against double-voting. That’s accomplished through the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which Washington founded with a bipartisan group of six other states in 2012 as a shared-cost, independent, and nonpartisan asset for American democracy.

This nonprofit partnership succeeded and grew to include 31 states and the District of Columbia. Through ERIC, we compare states’ voting records, along with federal databases, in a secure environment that reveals duplicate and outdated information for each state to remedy. The more states that join, the better ERIC functions, because it has more data to work with.

Since 2012, ERIC has identified more than 36.5 million inaccurate entries on voter rolls nationwide. This analysis has led to 1,750,615 updates of Washington voter registrations. In 2022 alone, ERIC findings helped Washington update registrations for 175,279 voters. Most of these were simple instances of fixing outdated or otherwise incorrect entries for voters who had moved or died.

Chart of voter registration updates made as a result of information received from ERIC member states from June 2013 to November 2022. (Image: 2022 Annual Report of Washington State Elections, Office of the Secretary of State)

ERIC also provides states address lists for residents who haven’t registered as voters. We send a postcard to these people outlining the path for an eligible U.S. citizen to participate in elections. My office mailed 154,931 of these postcards statewide in 2022, and 9,027 recipients registered to vote. I’m proud to have them as engaged citizens. ERIC also polices our democracy by flagging instances of dual-voting across state lines.

Outside of ERIC, there is no effective way to identify someone who decides to cast ballots in several places around the country.

That’s a tremendous return for a modest investment. Washington’s ERIC membership dues for the just ended fiscal year came to $49,901. It would cost any state many times that to create its own ability to check interstate voter rolls, from staffing costs to acquiring fresh data regularly from across the country.

I’m deeply troubled that this well-honed system has come under fire and eight states have departed for specious political reasons, often with abrupt reversals of prior support. Elected leaders like me have come to terms with governing in turbulent times, but I’m still dismayed when my counterparts in other states go — within a few weeks — from blessing ERIC among national media to playing to misinformed home-state partisans by going along with lies and exaggerations about the system’s cost and security.

This bad-faith governance elsewhere generates problems for all 39 Washington counties.

First, the misinformation doesn’t stop at the state line. Elections officials across Washington have heard, as have I, from constituents revved up by false accusations about what ERIC does and why. It takes time and public resources to address these concerns and make sure people have good information.

But worse, when states pull out of ERIC, it reduces the system’s effectiveness for the remaining member states by limiting the states from which we can detect multiple registrations, or dual-voting. The withdrawals weaken our elections systems and fuel the ridiculous far-right conspiracy theories about ERIC that bewilderingly cite George Soros — who has nothing to do with ERIC’s operations — and alleged fake registrations that have no evidence of occurring. Former President Trump’s shameless lies about ERIC ought to be shrugged off as nonsense, not parroted to chase votes.

Image: Office of the Secretary of State

It’s a great frustration for me, and my fellow statewide elections leaders who remain committed to ERIC, that states appear to be catering to radical conspiracists in pulling away from this effective and efficient partnership.

I’m proud ERIC still has 24 members from across the political spectrum. Keeping good information on the state voter rolls is a bipartisan interest and a sound investment in running trustworthy elections.

Banner image: Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC)

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