April 15, 2023
Sam Oliker-Friedland
Times West Virginian

West Virginia should embrace ERIC, not refute it

At the Institute for Responsive Government, we try to remind election policymakers that election security and access to the ballot are not tradeoffs; when policies are designed well, they go hand in hand.

But just three weeks ago, West Virginia Secretary of State Andrew “Mac” Warner announced the state’s withdrawal from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a bipartisan coalition of election administrators who keep voter rolls accurate. ERIC is the latest pro-voter organization to face scrutiny over baseless misinformation that undermines the integrity of state and local elections.

The decision by West Virginia, along with four other states, to withdraw from ERIC is not just a detriment to their constituents — this shortsighted decision is a step backward that will cost West Virginia taxpayers money and make it more challenging and costly to maintain accurate voter rolls across West Virginia and the entire country.

ERIC is a bipartisan coalition of election administrators who use reliable cross-state and cross-agency data to identify ineligible voters on the voter rolls and help member states keep voter rolls accurate and complete as voters move and pass away. Even conservative organizations like the Heritage Foundation continuously praise ERIC for its ability to keep the voting rolls across its membership states clean and up to date.

It’s baffling how we arrived here. ERIC is not just the most effective tool election administrators have for identifying ineligible voters — it’s one of the only tools. Election administrators in non-member states have no reliable fallback to ensure that their voter rolls are accurate and have no better way to flag voters who have moved out-of-state, passed away, or already voted there.

In states that withdraw, election administrators will be forced to pay more taxpayer money for less reliable data. 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.

Not only does a system like ERIC help to make government more responsive for all Americans, but maintaining accurate voter rolls also helps build confidence in election outcomes, a critical function at this moment when our democracy remains so fragile.

We can build trust by letting election officials, regardless of party, run their offices practically, responsively, and with enough resources to maintain security and serve every eligible voter.

The withdrawal by West Virginia and other states is a setback for election security in those states and nationwide. Absent ERIC, election officials will have to recreate a system to clean and update voter rolls that yields results as accurate, complete, and efficient.

In other words, this disinformation campaign may cost taxpayers a lot of money to arrive back at the same result. It is time to set aside the partisan bickering and move forward under one goal: fortify our democracy with the twin pillars of security and access.

Sam Oliker-Friedland is executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute for Responsive Government. Previously, he was a voting rights litigator at the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division under both the Obama and Trump administrations. Prior to that, he worked on election administration law and data in the nonprofit sector. He’s a Milwaukee native and lives in Chicago, Ill.