Confession of a former ERIC backer
Based on the headline of this article, you could be forgiven for asking questions like, “Who is this Eric fellow, why did you use to back him, and why don’t you back him anymore?”
First, ERIC is not a who but a what. It is the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit organization registered in Delaware.
ERIC’s stated goal is to “improve the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increase access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.” It does the former through data-sharing between member states and federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and the Post Office. Those data help members know if someone who is registered to vote in a state has died or moved out of the county. Members can then make their voter rolls cleaner by starting the process of removing those registrations.
The North Carolina State Board of Elections (SBE) notes that maintaining cleaner voting rolls “ensures ineligible voters are not included on poll books, reduces the possibility for poll worker error and decreases opportunities for fraud.”
The other half of ERIC’s mission is to use data from member states, such as from driver’s license agencies, to identify citizens who are eligible to vote but unregistered (EBUs). Members states must attempt to contact EBUs at least once every two years with information on how to register.
That looked like a good deal, especially since most states (31, including red and blue states) were already members. That would help spread the cost of maintaining ERIC and provide more data on registered voters who move out of North Carolina.
So, I advocated for North Carolina to join ERIC in 2021.
North Carolina law (G.S. § 163-82.14.(a)) already authorizes the SBE to join “data sharing agreements with other states to cross-check information on voter registration and voting records.” The only thing missing was the money needed to pay ERIC’s membership fees and related expenses. The General Assembly provided that money in the 2022 budget (section 26.1).
But even as North Carolina moved towards ERIC membership, trouble was brewing. I noted that year how ERIC had a problem with “opaqueness in handling data and the personnel involved in the data processing” and called for reforms.
In a meeting earlier this year, the ERIC board of directors refused to make those reforms, prompting Florida, West Virginia, and Missouri to withdraw from the organization.
A particular concern for North Carolina is privacy for people on the EBU list. Voter registration lists are public information since they involve people who voluntarily register to participate in the election process. However, people on EBU lists have done nothing to warrant having their data collected by a government agency only to be turned over to some outside organization.
That is concerning because election officials in other states have been caught divulging EBU data obtained from ERIC (pages 15-17).
I asked the SBE’s public information director if they had a policy about what to do with those data. He replied, “We do not have such a policy at this time,” but they would follow state and federal law. That is hardly reassuring, because North Carolina law does not prevent the SBE from disclosing EBU data to outside groups like election officials in other states have done.
Faced with this information, it is clear that North Carolina should not join ERIC until that organization implements reforms and the General Assembly passes a law protecting the privacy of those on EBU lists.
Although ERIC would help North Carolina clean its voter rolls, the risks are not worth the gain.