If Texas leaves national voter fraud prevention group, what next?
Secretary of state’s office is still rebuilding trust after 2019 voter roll cleanup debacle.
Texas’ likely withdrawal from a nationwide consortium designed to clean up voter rolls while boosting public participation in elections could be a setback for democracy in the state.
But it may happen if members of the multistate group, Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, fail to agree this week on reforms to address concerns that the group leans too far left.
If that happens, and new Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson chooses to pull out of the consortium as expected, she has signaled the state will go it alone. Texas will then work with “other states and jurisdictions” to develop its own interstate cross-check system, her spokesman, Sam Taylor, tells us.
That’s a tall order. We still have bad memories of 2019, when one of Nelson’s predecessors bungled a voter roll cleanup and damaged public trust. At the time, the secretary of state’s office sent a list of potential noncitizen voters to counties. That list used bad data that mistakenly flagged tens of thousands of people who were actually citizens. But the state told counties to figure out on their own the citizenship status of people on the list.
Nelson, who was confirmed by the Senate on Wednesday and who has enjoyed bipartisan support so far, would do well to remember the previous blunder if she launches her own voter fraud prevention system.
If she takes on this important effort, the former Republican lawmaker from Flower Mound should be fully transparent in how she plans to carry out cross-checks of voter rolls with other states and any voter purges.
About 30 states and the District of Columbia are members of ERIC. Since its inception in 2012, the nonprofit has cross-matched states’ voter records, motor vehicle data, death certificates and other information to help member states purge millions of ineligible voters from rolls. It has also identified millions more who were eligible to vote but not yet registered.
Up until last year, the group, the only one of its kind in the country, enjoyed bipartisan praise from secretaries of state nationwide. But that changed late last year when some far-right Republicans began floating concerns about the group’s funding and purpose.
Among the complaints of some member states, including Texas, is a requirement that they notify eligible but unregistered voters of their ability to register. Critics want this provision to be optional after an initial contact. They also have privacy concerns.
ERIC executive director Shane Hamlin, a former election official in the state of Washington, has tried to allay the concerns, but to no avail.
So far this year, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, Missouri and West Virginia have announced plans to withdraw from ERIC. And some big states, such as California and New York, aren’t members.
We hope ERIC doesn’t collapse and that member states can work out their concerns. Any voter fraud protection program must operate free from partisan politics.