Big Tent Ideas

J. CHRISTIAN ADAMS: This Red-State Election Reform Is A Big Mistake

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Daily Caller News Foundation logo
Font Size:

America’s descent to hyper-partisanship has led to blindness, especially about our elections. The Left has become the nothing-to-see-here crowd, where every election is rainbows and butterflies. They tell us that elections are free from any blemish, any ineligible voters, and any flaws at all.

But the Left’s willful blindness is sometimes met with fanciful fears. Consider the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). 

Before I first wrote about ERIC a number of years ago, pretty much nobody had ever heard of them. At the time, I pointed out that this interstate compact was formed by a fellow ex-DOJ Voting Section attorney, David Becker. Becker is a bright, entrepreneurial liberal who has built several establishmentarian institutions with election officials and pundits. All of them skew left and cancel or ignore any opposing viewpoints.

He is also the Godfather of ERIC. To some, that makes Becker the close ally of Satan himself. (RELATED: MICHAEL FAULKENDER: A Down Payment On Fiscal Sanity)

This is all the more curious because ERIC is primarily a data sharing organization among member states. It examines voter rolls, identifies cross state duplicates, runs death data against state rolls, and reports back to the member states.

The matching of cross state registrations is an incredibly important task, and right now ERIC is the only state-endorsed apparatus doing it.

Sure, private groups have made ad hoc referrals to states about cross state registrations, but ERIC states rely on ERIC data for the actual process of verification of multi-state registrations, not private groups. 

Recent prosecutions of cross state voting were by ERIC states using ERIC data.

I’ve heard election administration hobbyists say that ERIC doesn’t mandate clean voter rolls. That’s true, but neither does the postal service, the political parties, voting machine vendors, or any other entity touching on elections. They don’t have the power to mandate anything. That isn’t what ERIC is about. 

ERIC’s multistate compact model is the only credible way to do cross state registration checks for the time being. Outsiders — including me — might send states data about people registered in more than one state, but in the end, that’s just the view of an outsider. It is up to the states to do the actual work, the actual validation of data.

Others worry that ERIC is sharing data with others. Perhaps, but all of it is public data. The voter rolls, according to federal courts in at least four lawsuits with which I have been involved, have held that the voter roll is public. States who do not comply with that accurate interpretation of federal law could be sued.

So, if the data on the voter rolls are already public under federal law, what difference does it make where ERIC sends the data for analysis?  

There is no law, rule, or prohibition against states using vendors to conduct list maintenance. I have heard complaints that nothing mandates them to do so. The inverse question is the one that counts — nothing prohibits them from doing so. In fact, it would be silly to imagine that states would not turn to outside expertise to assist them in cleaning rolls.

After a campaign against ERIC, accusing it of partisanship and refusal to agree to reforms, seven Republican-controlled states left — Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and West Virginia. Now, the Texas legislature is considering a bill to withdrawal from ERIC. 

No state should leave ERIC until a replacement exists to deal with people registered in multiple states, and that includes Texas.

A viable replacement to ERIC currently doesn’t exist and will take time and money to develop. Most of all, it needs to be trusted by both blue and red state officials. In today’s age of partisanship, all I can say is good luck. 

Pennsylvania or Michigan won’t take action from the theoretical Tea Party Voter Database. I know this firsthand because I have been involved in litigation against Michigan for refusing to remove dead registrants. Third parties can do a good job finding problems on voter rolls. It is an entirely different task to convince hostile states to do anything about the problems. 

Others have been convinced alternatives to ERIC exist by self-interested data salesmen. Like the snake oil vendors of old, they promise big and deliver little. Fancy names. Big numbers. Just step right up and buy their product and they can solve every ache and pain in election administration.

Got voter fraud? There’s a cure for that! Got dead registrants, a teaspoon will fix it all. And all those thousands of people living in one house? Just be careful you don’t apply too much snake oil and find out it is actually a dorm at a historically black university.

ERIC certainly isn’t without blame here. When confronted by some member states with questions about ERIC’s internal affairs, ERIC officials were not transparent. That’s no surprise considering ERIC imposes mandates against transparency in their member agreement with states. ERIC is an organization that doesn’t want the public to know what it is doing. Meanwhile, state tax dollars support the organization. 

PILF is suing four states to have the ERIC member agreement struck down as a violation of federal transparency laws.

A little reform of ERIC would go a long way. 

Simple meaningful reforms are in order. They aren’t hard either. 

For starters, more bipartisanship at ERIC might soothe partisan fears. ERIC could ensure its committees have an equal number of members from red states and blue states. This gives everyone some confidence that fairness governs operations, not partisan aims.

ERIC must become transparent. It’s time for a new ERIC that doesn’t act like a secret sect, that admits only the favored, and engages in clandestine management practices, and hides who does all the work. Had ERIC been more transparent after I wrote the first critical story about it, history would have been different. The exodus would not have begun and snake oil salesmen wouldn’t have ridden their wagon into town.

Here’s how ridiculous it is. ERIC prohibits states from disclosing ERIC reports on deceased registrants and voters registered in other states. 

Just these simple reforms would create more trust in ERIC. 

Right now, hyper partisanship is affecting our elections process. The Left is blind to many of the problems hurting our elections. But the response shouldn’t be to see things that aren’t there. States shouldn’t leave ERIC until a viable, credible, bipartisan, trustworthy replacement exists. 

Christian Adams is the President of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, a former Justice Department attorney, and current commissioner on the United States Commission for Civil Rights.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of the Daily Caller News Foundation.

All content created by the Daily Caller News Foundation, an independent and nonpartisan newswire service, is available without charge to any legitimate news publisher that can provide a large audience. All republished articles must include our logo, our reporter’s byline and their DCNF affiliation. For any questions about our guidelines or partnering with us, please contact