Some Texas Republicans want to abandon a national voting security system that’s charged with ensuring that individuals can vote only in the state where they currently live. But there’s no replacement in sight for the Electronic Information Registration Center, or ERIC. The Texas Secretary of State’s Office is looking for alternative ways to exchange voter roll information with other states, but no viable alternative exists yet.
Texas isn’t alone. Other Republican-led states, including Florida, Louisiana, Ohio and Iowa have already left ERIC.
Michael Morse wrote for Slate about how the ERIC system works, and why some GOP lawmakers want out. Morse is an incoming assistant professor law at the University of Pennsylvania, and he studies election administration. He says ERIC works so well because unlike other voter roll verification systems, it has access to confidential data, including motor vehicle registration information. Listen to the interview above or read the transcript below.
This transcript has been edited lightly for clarity:
Texas Standard: Can you just tell me a little bit more about how ERIC works?
Michael Morse: ERIC is a nonprofit corporation. It is composed of state chief election officials. So in order to join this organization, state chief election officials agree to share their voter registration cards and their motor vehicle packets through this institution – or what I would call this bureaucracy – that they set up. So ERIC is really a very interesting way to help coordinate voter registration across the states. And it’s a group [that’s] run and composed solely of state election officials.
Does the system work the way it is supposed to or have there been problems?
So the system does work the way it is supposed to do. But I think it’s worth stepping back to just remind ourselves what the problem is that ERIC is trying to solve because ERIC’s never going to be able to completely solve this problem. And the problem is that we have a system where you have to register in order to vote. And when you register, you register at your residential address. That’s important because it means you’re eligible to vote for certain offices and not others. But people move, and move all the time within states and across states. And so our voter rolls are almost immediately out of date. That doesn’t lead to fraud, but it means we have to share data in order to keep our rolls accurate and complete. And so ERIC has done the best job we’ve seen at accomplishing that, primarily because it has confidential data about individuals.
I understand that there were other attempts to try and make something like ERIC work but didn’t quite get there. Can you tell us about what makes ERIC special in terms of its of how it operates?
There have been two efforts to help states coordinate voter registration polls. They both kind of originate or became popular in 2013 under President Obama. There was a commission to improve election administration, and they endorsed two efforts. One was called CrossCheck, the other, ERIC. CrossCheck was basically a disaster. CrossCheck involved, again, state secretaries of state sharing their voter registration rolls. And in theory, that sounds like a great idea. But the problem is our voter registration rolls often don’t have enough unique information about individuals to match them across states.
And you can think of this as how many people do we have in the country who are named “John Smith,” who happened to be born on the same day. The reason ERIC works is because you don’t share voter registration data. You share motor vehicle data. And it’s a bit of a puzzle why that works. But the reason it works is that motor vehicle data often includes at least a partial Social Security number. And ERIC, then, is this very clever solution. By bringing in more data about each person, we start to be able to uniquely identify them as they move across the country.
So CrossCheck was the first attempt at this with voter data only. And ERIC is the second attempt at it with voter data and motor vehicle data. I think the reason ERIC works is precisely why we’re concerned that if Texas pulls out, there is no solution that can approximate ERIC and instead, what they may do is something that approximates CrossCheck, which was not good for anyone.
My understanding is that the administration of this system, the collaboration that happens between states in order to make it possible, that was pretty harmonious, regardless of which party was in charge of the government, of which state – things just worked. But what’s happened recently to change that?
ERIC was founded by a bipartisan group of states. It has been bipartisan throughout its first ten years. From what I best can understand, the sudden Republican departures can really be traced to disinformation about the group that started to be spread on right wing talk shows in the end of 2021. Louisiana almost immediately withdrew from the organization – they were the first state to withdraw. And then during the November ’22 elections, some state secretaries of state, including the candidate who won in Alabama, ran on a platform of withdrawing from ERIC. And again, the claims they made about ERIC were false claims. But they have now the momentum to kind of pull the thread under ERIC and, I mean, potentially end it.
So if I’m understanding you correctly, ERIC, in some states, has become a bit of a strawman for some of the debates we’ve seen over election integrity. Is that correct?
Totally. ERIC has gotten caught up in a much larger fight about elections. But I mean, it’s the subject of what really are just hypocritical attacks. So, ERIC is this device that helps states coordinate voter registration to keep our rolls more accurate and more complete. Without this tool, we’re blind in some ways, and precisely because of that, the people who are attacking it are the same people who claim fraud. Now, we haven’t found much evidence of fraud, but certainly if we take away ERIC as a tool, there’s an opportunity to claim there’s more fraud in our elections – the polls are inaccurate. It’s just easier. And so I think it is an attack against the best tool we have to keep our rolls more accurate. And that should be everyone’s goal.
For states that have left ERIC or are considering doing so, is there an alternative out there that they can avail themselves of, or no?
The short answer is no. I mean, the reason ERIC works is because it has been able to combine confidential data from both the secretaries of state voter registration data, but also driver’s license data. And driver’s license data comes with a lot of privacy protections and security protocols. And it is not easy for any other organization just to stand up a copycat of ERIC. It took ERIC a long time to create itself.
The concern I have is these private organizations – which I kind of refer to as “vigilante groups” – purport to be able to do what ERIC does, but they often use publicly available – but incomplete – data. And so they’re not able to fulfill the same role. And it leads to false positives. The idea that some person moved when they didn’t move or one person is some other person, and then an effort to keep the rules accurate and complete becomes problematic because we can end up purging someone incorrectly.