During discussions with Pennsylvania’s top election officials this week, State Senator Cris Dush (R-Bellefonte) urged the commonwealth to leave the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an election data-sharing system. 

Over the last 14 months, five states have nixed their participation in ERIC. This month, both Iowa and Ohio indicated they will also do so. Some Republican-led states in the partnership wanted greater autonomy regarding the use of the data collected by the organization; these participants also desired an end to a stipulation in ERIC’s bylaws instructing states to contact unregistered voters to remind them to vote. In a recent meeting, the nonprofit’s board rejected the suggested changes. 

Dush made his remarks against ERIC during a Senate Appropriations Committee wherein officials of the Pennsylvania Department of State testified regarding the budget process that is now underway. 

“In the upcoming months the State Government Committee [which Dush chairs] will be taking the lead on this issue and charting a path for Pennsylvania to leave ERIC and provide a reasonable, nonpartisan substitute for ERIC data,” the senator said. 

Started in 2012, ERIC has stated its “sole mission” is “assisting states to improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.” State election boards provide the nonprofit with voter-registration data and other information to identify voters who have duplicate registrations or who have moved or died. Thirty-two states and the District of Columbia were participating in the system as of last autumn. 

Conservatives have taken as red flags the organization’s origin as an offshoot of the left-leaning Pew Charitable Trusts, a grantmaking and advocacy nonprofit, and ERIC’s reception of funding from liberal billionaire philanthropist George Soros. Critics have also observed ERIC’s creation was spearheaded by David Becker, the former head of the progressive People for the American Way. Florida, West Virginia, Missouri, Louisiana, and Alabama, all Republican-run states, have all fully exited the data-sharing partnership.

Dush described ERIC as a “ghost” institution, an assertion he corroborated by citing Alabama Republican Secretary of State Wes Allen’s discovery of “no ERIC presence of any kind” when he made an unadvertised visit to the company’s published address.

“How can you have any type of information center, with no physical presence?” Dush said. “ERIC’s Washington, D.C. address is actually operated by Expansive, a company that offers virtual workplaces across the county and rents office space by the day.”

The lawmaker expressed doubt that state officials could perform security reviews if state election officials do not know the server’s location where ERIC keeps its data. He posited that the commonwealth could easily withdraw from the system and use U.S. Postal Service change-of-address information to clean up the state’s voter rolls. He asked Pennsylvania Secretary of State Al Schmidt, a liberal Republican who used to serve as a Philadelphia City Commissioner, what cost the state would incur if it did that. 

“It’s difficult to estimate what the cost would be because there is no other system comparable to ERIC at present,” Schmidt answered. 

Dush countered that states declining to use ERIC now actually enjoy greater success correcting their voter records. 

“Their numbers are significantly better than the commonwealth’s,” he declared. 

Schmidt argued that ERIC participants benefit from notification that a voter has moved and therefore may be registered in two locations. 

“If that voter does not complete a national change-of-address form, the state would not be aware of the voter having moved,” he said. 

Dush concluded by saying, “With seven states recently abandoning this ship, I think you’re going to have less access to those other states because I think ERIC is, like I said, a sinking ship and, in my mind, a ghost entity that has access to the sensitive information of our voters.”

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Bradley Vasoli is managing editor of The Pennsylvania Daily Star. Follow Brad on Twitter at @BVasoli. Email tips to [email protected].
Photo “Cris Dush” by Cris Dush. Background Photo “Election Day” by Phil Roeder. CC BY 2.0.