RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Election officials in Virginia have announced plans to withdraw the state from a bipartisan effort designed to ensure accurate voter lists and combat fraud — but that also has been caught up in conspiracy theories spread since the 2020 presidential election.
When Virginia formally withdraws later this year, it will become the eighth Republican-led state to leave the Electronic Registration Information Center, known has ERIC, since the group was targeted in a series of online stories last year that questioned its funding and purpose. Former President Donald Trump has been among those calling on Republican state officials to leave.
Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals, in a letter sent Thursday to ERIC, listed several reasons for the decision to end the state’s membership. That included the recent state departures, incomplete participation by Virginia’s bordering states and “increasing concerns regarding stewardship, maintenance, privacy, and confidentiality” of voter information.
Virginia was one of the founding members when ERIC was formed in 2012, an effort promoted by then-Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.
“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.”
Virginia joins Alabama, Florida, Iowa, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio and West Virginia who have either withdrawn or notified ERIC that they plan to do so. Texas election officials have said they are working on an alternative data-sharing effort but have not provided a notice of withdrawal.
ERIC uses data-sharing among member states to identify voters who might have moved out of state or died and should be considered for removal from a state’s voter rolls. It also flags instances of potential double-voting -- ballots cast in more than one state by the same voter -- that are then used to investigate potential voter fraud.
Beals, a former local election official, was appointed as state elections commissioner last year by Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin. She previously served as an aide to Republican state Sen. Amanda Chase, who since the 2020 election has become a prominent promoter of Trump’s false claims of widespread fraud.
There is no evidence of fraud or manipulation of voting machines in the 2020 election. Reviews in multiple states, including ones controlled by Republicans, have upheld the results and affirmed Joe Biden's win. Dozens of judges, including several nominated by Trump, also rejected his claims.
In a statement, Chase praised the decision and claimed, without evidence, that ERIC was “used for insidious and nefarious purposes to include an abuse of power in controlling our elections.”
Democratic state Sen. Adam Ebbin said he was disappointed in the decision to withdraw from the system.
“The net result is we won’t have a tool to make sure our voter rolls are as accurate as they could be,” said Ebbin, a member of the Senate Privileges and Elections Committee. “It’s less accurate without as many state partners to verify information."
One conspiracy targeting the system claims that billionaire philanthropist George Soros funded it. While the data-sharing system did receive initial funding from the nonpartisan Pew Charitable Trusts, that money was separate from funding provided to Pew by a Soros-affiliated organization that went to an unrelated effort, according to ERIC’s executive director, Shane Hamlin. The system has since been funded through annual dues by member states.
Hamlin said in an emailed statement that the group “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.”
With no national voter registration clearinghouse, ERIC is the only data-sharing program among the states. It was started in 2012 by seven states and was bipartisan from the beginning, with four of the founding states led at the time by Republicans.
The system has been credited in Maryland with identifying some 66,000 potentially deceased voters and 778,000 people who may have moved out of state since 2013. In Georgia, officials said nearly 100,000 voters no longer eligible to vote in the state had been removed based on data provided by ERIC.
Cassidy reported from Atlanta.