RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Virginia has left a multi-state group that shares data to improve voter roll accuracy, becoming the latest Republican-led state to do so after the program became the target of right-wing media reports and conspiracy theories.
Virginia was one of the seven founding member states of the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a nonprofit that allows members to share voter registration data. According to its site, states use the information to reach out to eligible voters who haven’t registered after moving and remove dead people from voter rolls.
In a May 11 letter, state Elections Commissioner Susan Beals informed ERIC’s executive director that Virginia would be withdrawing from the program.
She wrote that the decision, first reported by Virginia Public Media, came after the state reviewed its participation after seven members opted to leave the partnership.
Beals listed several reasons for Virginia’s departure in the letter, which 8News obtained Thursday, including higher and uncertain costs after the other member states withdrew and “increasing concerns regarding stewardship, maintenance, privacy, and confidentiality of voter information.”
Another reason Beals listed in her letter was the “controversy surrounding the historical sharing of data with outside organizations leveraged for political purposes.”
“In short, ERIC’s mandate has expanded beyond that of its initial intent – to improve the accuracy of voter rolls,” Beals wrote. “We will pursue other information arrangements with our neighboring states and look to other opportunities to partner with states in an apolitical fashion.”
With the move, Virginia joined seven other Republican-led states to recently withdraw from ERIC: Ohio, Iowa, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama.
“ERIC will follow our Bylaws and Membership Agreement regarding any member’s request to resign membership,” Hamlin said in a statement to 8News. “We will continue our work on behalf of our remaining member states in improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”
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.
In March, Hamlin wrote an open letter to address “recent misinformation spreading about ERIC.” He wrote in part: “ERIC is never connected to any state’s voter registration system. Members retain complete control over their voter rolls and they use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws.”
“Virginia withdrew from ERIC because Virginians’ data was shared with an ERIC affiliated research organization and Virginia is unable to reform ERIC and it’s highly politicized use of data,” 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.”
State Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) said he’s “disappointed” about the decision to move on from a program that helps keep voter rolls up to date without any other system in place.
“Seems like Virginia has joined other states with Republican governors afraid of people registering to vote,” Ebbin told 8News on Friday, “which seems like a silly thing to be.”