Politics

An Alabama ‘voter-denier’ is leading efforts in the state to pull out of a national organization that fights voter fraud

guy in a suit behind the podium

Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen speaks during the dedication ceremony on the steps of the Alabama State Capital Monday, Jan. 16, 2023, in Montgomery, Ala..AP Photo/Butch Dill

  • Alabama’s top elections official is withdrawing the state from a nonprofit organization known as ERIC.

  • ERIC helps more than 30 states identify voters who may be registered in more than one jurisdiction.

  • The group has come under fire from conspiracy theorists who falsely claim it is funded by George Soros.

Spurred by misinformation and false claims about billionaire philanthropist George Soros, the state of Alabama’s top elections official announced this week that he is withdrawing from a group that helps prevent voter fraud, despite his own claims that the last presidential election was rigged of the.

Since 2020, conspiracy theorists who claim the vote was rigged against former President Donald Trump have switched from villain to villain, shedding everything from the creators of voting machines to the state of Italy. The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is the latest target.

Founded in 2012, ERIC began as a collaboration of election officials in seven states, four of them Republican. It collects data from motor vehicle departments and voter rolls from its members — now more than 30, including several deeply red states — and, among other things, identifies people who may be registered to vote in more than one state.

By 2022, ERIC members helped uncover more than 203,000 duplicate records for potential voters and remove more than 65,000 deceased individuals from their rolls, according to statistics published by the organization.

A strong outlier

Officials, including Republicans, have credited the organization with helping to clean up their voter rolls and prevent fraudulent votes. But Wes Allen, elected to be Alabama’s secretary of state last fall, wants out.

“I made a promise to the people of Alabama that ending our state’s relationship with ERIC would be my first official act as secretary of state,” the former Republican state lawmaker said in a statement issued a day after he was sworn in on 16 January. He framed the decision as a matter of privacy, saying he objected to “[p]disclosure of private information about Alabama citizens, including minors, to an out-of-state organization.”

A former state legislator, Allen was dubbed a “election denier” by the States United Democracy Center, a bipartisan group that promotes election integrity, over his support for overturning the results of the 2020 election.

IN an interview last year with The Birmingham News, Allen argued that Alabama’s own election was clean — Trump won the state in a landslide — but questioned the “chaos and confusion” elsewhere, telling the paper that it’s “important that Americans know that only legal ballots are being cast and that the ballots are counted in a legal manner.”

Nevertheless, Allen has chosen to pull Alabama out of the only organization that allows states to clean up their voter rolls by removing those who have moved to other jurisdictions, which helps prevent someone from casting more than one vote place.

His official statement announcing the decision was a significantly watered-down version of what he said before taking office. In a statement on his 2022 campaign website, since deletedhe offered more red meat to Republican primary voters, falsely describing ERIC as a “Soros-funded leftist group.”

“Soros can take his henchmen and his database and troll someone else because Alabamians will be off limits — permanently,” Allen said in the post.

Allen’s office did not respond to Insider’s requests for comment.

Where the error information came from

Although now funded entirely by state membership dues, the Pew Charitable Trusts ERIC provided its initial seed funding, which is the dot-connecting basis for the Soros claim: the billionaire’s own nonprofit once made a $500,000 grant to Pew, accounting for just over 1/100 of a percent of the charity’s annual funding.

Last year, the organization emerged from obscurity to become the latest boogeyman of the far-right internet. The stories attacking the organization are heavy on innuendo, but the gist was expressed by a writer for The American Conservative who charged that the group was a radical-left front group using the guise of fighting fraud to pursue a “get out of the voting agenda” on the taxpayers’ dime.

ERIC itself does not register any voters. And because potential voters are identified through motor vehicle department data, federal privacy laws prevent the organization from sharing its list with anyone other than state governments, which send out postcards to those flagged.

However, the false claims were enough to prompt Louisiana’s own Republican secretary of state to announce last year that he was suspending participation in ERIC, a spokesman says the news site Votebeat it was due to “a lot” of concerns over “election stuff”.

However, these are outliers, even among right-wing politicians.

John Merrill, former Alabama Secretary of State and himself a conservative Republican, told The Alabama Political Reporter that “this continued narrative that ERIC is a George Soros scheme is untrue. ERIC was not founded or funded by George Soros, and to claim otherwise is either dishonest or misinformed.”

‘A key tool for electoral integrity’

That the group is a “Soros-funded left-wing group” would be news to the state of Texas, which joined ERIC a few months before the 2020 election. Sam Taylor, a spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, a Republican, told Insider that when it comes to cleaning up the voter rolls, there is literally no alternative, as it is the “only cross-checking program that exists.”

“Texas has used the valuable data ERIC provides to identify duplicate voter registrations across states, voters who potentially cast a vote in Texas and another state, and potential votes cast in the name of deceased individuals,” Taylor said, calling to the organization. “a key tool for election integrity in Texas.”

Merrill was pleased with what he saw from ERIC in his 8 years in office.

The secretary’s job “is to ensure election integrity,” he told Insider, “and when you’re trying to ensure election integrity, you have to evaluate all the options that are available to you to continue to try to provide the safest, the safest environment for transparency and accountability that can be provided.”

Merrill, the former head of the Alabama Republican Party and now a private citizen, was cautious when asked about his successor’s decision and whether it will make it harder to prevent fraud in his state.

“I trust that what he has done is that he has evaluated the merits of the relationship that the state has with ERIC and that he has determined that it is in the best interest of the people for the state of Alabama to part ways,” said Merrill to Insider.

As for ERIC, Shane Hamlin, the group’s executive director, told Insider that it will honor Allen’s resignation request, although according to the group’s bylaws, it won’t become official until April. With or without Alabama, he said, ERIC will continue to focus on “improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”

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