For more than a decade, the Electronic Registration Information Center has helped Virginia and other member states maintain accurate voter rolls and facilitate registration of new voters. It has improved election administration and potentially deterred fraud, thanks to up-to-date and trustworthy voter records.
This month, the Youngkin administration announced plans to withdraw the commonwealth from the ERIC without compelling justification or a detailed plan for how those services will be handled in the future. It’s a solution in search of a problem and, worse, needlessly injects uncertainty and doubt into Virginia elections.
In 2012, a report by the Pew Charitable Trusts found about 12% of U.S. voter registrations were no longer valid, rolls listed nearly 2 million deceased voters, and nearly 3 million Americans were registered in more than one state. Researchers also estimated that 51 million citizens were eligible to vote but not registered to cast ballots.
Seven states, including Virginia under Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, created ERIC to address these problems. They developed a multistate cost-sharing partnership that would work cooperatively to improve the quality and accuracy of their voter rolls and to conduct outreach to eligible citizens who were unregistered.
It worked, but those were the days before Donald Trump and his tsunami of election lies forever altered the nation’s electoral landscape. For Trump’s supporters, the question isn’t whether a program works but whether it works to Trump’s advantage.
In the aftermath of the 2020 election, conspiracy theorists took aim at ERIC, alleging without evidence that the partnership tips the scales for Democrats. Trump baselessly claimed ERIC “pumps the rolls” for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up and, naturally, his supporters viewed those as marching orders.
Though ERIC’s membership reached 32 states and the District of Columbia, seven states have withdrawn this year or signaled their intention to do so. Others are considering legislation to remove themselves. All are governed by Republicans.
This month, Virginia joined the cavalcade of embarrassment. Elections Commissioner Susan Beals informed ERIC she would terminate Virginia’s membership “based on a careful review.” She listed concerns guiding that decision, including how the departure of several other states from the coalition could affect Virginia’s cost, protection of commonwealth voter data and ERIC’s resistance to suggestions for reform.
But Beals’ letter also echoes the debunked claims that ERIC did not protect voter data or acted in a way that exceeds its mandate. ERIC Executive Director Shane Hamlin rebutted those falsehoods in an open letter he penned in March, which the powers-that-be in Richmond either missed or ignored.
Sadly, wading into the fetid bog of election conspiracies is a predictable move for this administration. Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s first proposal on the campaign trail was for an ill-defined “election integrity task force” that showed his willingness to play along with Trump’s election denial without fully embracing it. It wasn’t until a month before the election that the Republican candidate said that, yes, he would have voted to certify the 2020 election results, and by then he was courting moderate voters who rejected the former president’s lies.
He’s not the only one in Richmond going wherever the winds blow. Joshua Lief helped lead the “Election Integrity Unit” in the office of Attorney General Jason Miyares and last year issued a defense of Virginia’s ERIC membership in response to a constituent complaint. This month, Miyares backed the governor’s decision to withdraw.
Maintaining up-to-date voter rolls is a critical responsibility for every state, a duty required by law. One would expect that individuals concerned about election fraud, despite the fact that such incidents are incredibly rare, would embrace a system that ensures those rolls are accurate.
Instead, the Youngkin administration has decided to abandon a system that conducts that work and has performed admirably for more than a decade with no clear plan for what comes next. It is irresponsible, unnecessary and needlessly undermines confidence in the commonwealth’s elections.