RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Democrats condemned Virginia’s choice to follow other Republican-led states to leave a bipartisan effort aimed at combating voter fraud, with one calling it proof that Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration “wants to take us back to the days of Jim Crow.”

Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals, a Youngkin appointee, sent a May 11 letter to the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) informing the nonprofit that the state was withdrawing from the interstate program.

According to ERIC’s site, the multi-state partnership helps maintain accurate voter rolls by allowing participating states to share information that lets them contact eligible voters who haven’t registered to vote after moving away.

In the wake of the 2020 presidential election, the program has been a target of right-wing media reports and conspiracy theories. Virginia joined seven other Republican-led states to recently withdraw: Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama.

Among the reasons for Virginia’s withdrawal listed in Beals’ letter to ERIC’s executive director was the “controversy surrounding the historical sharing of data with outside organizations leveraged for political purposes.”

For a group of Democrats who held a Monday morning press conference, the move is just the latest attempt from Republicans to undermine people’s voting rights in Virginia. They also said the move goes against Republicans’ position on election integrity, highlighting that ERIC aims to fight voter fraud efforts by ensuring accurate registration information.  

“Virginia actually helped set up this system under Republican Governor Bob McDonnell but now it’s the subject of lies and conspiracy theories from MAGA Republicans,” state Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton) told reporters.

Locke, Democrats’ caucus chair in the Virginia Senate, noted recent GOP-led efforts in Virginia to overhaul changes put in place under Democratic control, including attempts to end the use of ballot drop-off boxes, automatic registration, limit the early voting window and more.

Locke and House Minority Leader Don Scott (D-Portsmouth) pointed out that Virginia joined states with similar histories of “racist, voter suppression tactics,” such as Florida, Alabama and Louisiana.

“Let’s call this what it is: further proof that this administration wants to take us back to the days of Jim Crow,” Del. Scott said Monday.

Del. Marcus Simon (D-Fairfax) and Scott called out the decision to leave ERIC without any other system in place to maintain voter rolls. Simon claimed that Youngkin and Beals were using debunked conspiracy theories to “guide decision-making.”

The program, which started as a bipartisan effort, has been the focus of far-right conspiracies and hardline Republicans. This includes false claims that the nonprofit is funded by liberal billionaire George Soros, a megadonor who is a top target of conservatives and conspiracy theorists.

Former President Donald Trump called on all GOP governors to pull out of ERIC in March and Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen also tried to link ERIC with Soros when he was a state lawmaker running his campaign. Once he took office, Allen withdrew Alabama from ERIC.

“Virginia withdrew from ERIC because Virginians’ data was shared with an ERIC affiliated research organization and despite its efforts, Virginia was unable to reform ERIC,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said in a statement. “As stewards of Virginia taxpayer dollars, it was also necessary to remove the Commonwealth from ERIC’s significantly increasing costs.”

Porter did not share a response to remarks from Locke in which she said Youngkin was embracing Trump’s “lies and conspiracy theories” and Scott’s comments accusing his administration of trying to take Virginia “back to the days of Jim Crow.”

When asked about potential next steps, Del. Scott indicated his support for holding up budget talks unless Virginia reverses course.

A Department of Elections spokeswoman said Virginia has been discussing creating a similar data-sharing partnership with other states but did not share which states are involved in the talks.

“Virginia has been participating in talks with other states for several months about creating new state to state data-sharing relationships for the purpose of identifying potential double voters,” department spokeswoman Andrea Gaines wrote in an email.

The agency will continue to conduct its maintenance procedures, including removing people ineligible to vote and those who have died from voter rolls.

“ELECT will obtain its own subscription to the Limited Master Death file from the Social Security Administration. ELECT will process records of voters who have moved and obtained a driver’s license in a new state internally,” Gaines added. “This data is currently available and sent to ELECT from DMV on a monthly basis from information received via interstate compact through the DMV.”