Alabama ‘election denier’ withdraws state from anti-voter fraud group

Alabama ‘election denier’ withdraws state from anti-voter fraud group

  • Alabama’s top election official withdraws 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 been targeted by conspiracy theorists who falsely claim it is funded by George Soros.

Spurred by misinformation and false claims about billionaire philanthropist George Soros, the Alabama state’s top elections official announced this week that he was withdrawing from a group that helps prevent voter fraud, despite his own claim that the latest presidential elections were marred by it.

Since 2020, conspiracy theorists who argue that the vote was rigged against former President Donald Trump have gone from villain to villain, pointing fingers at everything from the makers of the voting machines to the state of Italy. The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, is the newest target.

Founded in 2012, ERIC began as a collaboration of election officials in seven states, four of them Republican. It collects data from departments of motor vehicles and their members’ voter rolls — 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.

In 2022, ERIC helped members discover more than 203,000 duplicate entries for potential voters and remove more than 65,000 deceased people from their rolls, according to statistics published by the organization.

A mighty outlier

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

“I promised the people of Alabama that terminating our state’s relationship with the ERIC organization would be my first official act as Secretary of State,” the former Republican state legislator said in a statement, issued a day after he was sworn in on May 16. January. He framed the decision as a privacy issue and said he was opposed to “[p]provide private information of Alabama citizens, including minors, to an out-of-state organization.”

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

In an interview last year with The Birmingham News, Allen asserted that Alabama’s own election was fair (Trump won the state in a landslide), but questioned the “chaos and confusion” elsewhere, telling the newspaper that it is “It is vital that Americans know that only legal ballots are being cast and that the votes are being counted in a legal manner.”

However, Allen has chosen to remove Alabama from 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 their vote in more than one 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 since-deleted 2022 campaign website, he offered up more red meat for Republican primary voters, falsely describing ERIC as a “Soros-funded leftist group.”

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

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

Where did the misinformation come from?

Though now funded entirely by state member dues, the Pew Charitable Trusts provided ERIC with its initial seed funding, which is the foundation that connects the dots for Soros’s claim: the billionaire’s own nonprofit. he once provided a $500,000 grant to Pew, representing just over 1/100 of a percent of the charity’s annual funding.

Last year, the organization emerged from obscurity to become the latest far-right Internet boogeyman. Stories attacking the organization are full of innuendo, but the crux was voiced by a writer for The American Conservative, who accused the group of being a radical left front using the guise of fighting fraud to pursue an “out of the – voting agenda” on the taxpayers’ dime.

ERIC itself does not register any voters. And because those who might be eligible to vote are identified through data from motor vehicle departments, federal privacy laws prevent the organization from sharing its list with anyone other than state governments, which send postcards to who have been marked.

However, the false claims were enough for the Louisiana Republican Secretary of State himself to announce last year that he was suspending his participation in ERIC, with a spokesman telling the news site Votebeat that it was due to “numerous” concerns about “matters electoral”.

These, however, are outliers, even among right-wing politicians.

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

‘A key tool for electoral integrity’

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

“Texas has used the valuable data that ERIC provides to identify duplicate voter registrations in other states, voters who potentially cast ballots in Texas and another state, and potential ballots cast on behalf of deceased individuals,” Taylor said, calling the organization “a key tool for electoral integrity in Texas.

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

The clerk’s job “is to ensure the integrity of the election,” he told Insider, “and when you’re trying to ensure the integrity of the election, you need to look at all the options that are available to you to continue to try to provide the safest, most secure environment.” for the transparency and accountability that can be provided.”

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

“I am confident 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 of the state of Alabama to separate,” Merrill told Insider.

As for ERIC, Shane Hamlin, the group’s chief executive, told Insider that he will accept Allen’s request to resign, although according to the group’s bylaws it won’t be made 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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