June 16, 2023
Sam Oliker-Friedland
Houston Chronicle

If Texas withdraws from ERIC, it’ll be an expensive mistake (Opinion)

Texas lawmakers recently approved Senate Bill 1070, which would end the state of Texas’ participation in the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a bipartisan coalition of election administrators who keep voter rolls accurate. If Gov. Greg Abbott signs this legislation into law, Texas will be the ninth, and largest, state to withdraw from ERIC.

Prior to 2022, ERIC was considered a trusted bipartisan effort to securely share voter information. Since then, some conservative advocacy groups have spread misinformation about ERIC, which has led to multiple Republican-led states’ withdrawal.

So, let’s clear the air: Election administrators use ERIC to identify ineligible voters, pulling from cross-state and cross-agency data. With ERIC, member states keep their voter rolls accurate and complete as voters move or pass away. Conservative organizations including the Heritage Foundation have praised ERIC for its ability to keep the voting rolls across its membership states clean and up to date. It is an efficient system used to benefit all voters across participating states.

SB 1070 would push Texas towards using an alternative system to update voter rolls. However, to date, ERIC is not just the most effective tool election administrators have for identifying ineligible voters — it’s also one of the only tools. Outside of ERIC, there is no reliable existing alternative that will identify voters who have moved out-of-state, passed away or simply already voted. Texas election officials will be forced to recreate a system that cleans and updates voter rolls — which ERIC already does, accurately and efficiently.

Part of ERIC’s strength also lies in its bipartisanship. A partisan alternative, which is what’s being proposed in Texas right now, is unlikely to promote voter confidence. ERIC is neither connected to any state system nor part of any national effort to boost voter participation; it’s a bipartisan group of bureaucrats doing what they always do — keeping our elections secure. With each state that withdraws, cross-state information is lost, and the efficiency and effectiveness of ERIC as a whole is undermined. 

It is unfortunate that the baseless misinformation being spread about ERIC is having powerful, real-world consequences. The disinformation campaign against ERIC is creating the exact scenario we are all hoping to avoid: inaccuracy, inefficiency and insecurity around our elections, not only in the states that have chosen to withdraw, but nationwide. It is actively undermining the integrity of state and local elections.

Should the governor approve of SB 1070, Texas will be forced to contend with the fact that the decision to withdraw from ERIC is shortsighted. It will be an expensive step backwards for Texas taxpayers, not to mention the challenges the withdrawal will create in maintaining accurate voter rolls.

Maintaining accurate voter rolls helps build confidence in election outcomes, which is a critical function during this time of heightened distrust in our government. On top of reinforcing our democracy, we have the opportunity to build trust by letting election officials, regardless of party, run their offices practically, responsively and with enough resources to maintain security to serve every eligible voter. This was the plan all along with ERIC.

Election security and access to the ballot are not tradeoffs — in fact, when policies are designed well, such as in ERIC’s case, they go hand-in-hand. Ultimately, it is time to move forward with a solution that centers the needs of the voters, rather than politicians. We owe it to ourselves, and to the future of our country, that our elections are fortified under the twin pillars of security and access.

Sam Oliker-Friedland is the executive director of the Institute for Responsive Government. Previously, under both the Obama and Trump administrations, he was a voting rights litigator at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division.