Opinion: Effective, useful, and secure: Why Dush is wrong about ERIC

ERIC is widely seen as the gold standard for keeping our voter rolls accurate. It’s hard to get consensus like that these days.

This opinion was originally published in PennLive Patriot-News on Wednesday, September 20, 2023.

When was the last time you thought about Pennsylvania’s voter rolls? Besides checking to make sure your voter registration is up-to-date, have you considered how much goes on behind the scenes to make our elections run smoothly?

My guess is you don’t think too much about our state’s voter rolls or what’s going on behind the scenes. You know why? Because there’s a small group of Pennsylvanians who think about our voter rolls nearly all the time: The election administrators at the Department of State and in our 67 counties. The unsung heroes of elections big and small, our election administrators make sure our voter rolls are accurate.

This means keeping track of voters who change addresses, register in another state, or pass away. As you can imagine, this requires an immense amount of coordination and attention to detail. This is where the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, plays an important role.

ERIC is a nonprofit, nonpartisan membership organization created and run by state election officials. This national record-matching consortium was created by a bipartisan team of state election officials in 2012 to help improve the accuracy of voter registration rolls. Pennsylvania joined ERIC in 2016 as the 15th member, and as of June 30, 2023, 25 states plus the District of Columbia are a part of ERIC.

Pennsylvania election officials are satisfied with ERIC. Experts from both sides of the political spectrum describe it as effective and useful. ERIC is widely seen as the gold standard for keeping our voter rolls accurate. It’s hard to get consensus like that these days.

This secure, efficient, and cost-effective system cross-checks data submitted by the states against other databases (like the Social Security Administration’s Limited Access Death Master File) to identify duplicate or outdated voter registrations that may need to be removed or updated. These actions are all overseen and directed by state election officials.
There is no viable alternative to ERIC. Other states have tried, but to no avail; for example, the Interstate Crosscheck System, a program started in Kansas, had a 99% error rate. It was found to eliminate about 200 registrations used to cast legitimate votes for every one duplicate voter registration. As explained by the Louisiana Illuminator, “Replicating what ERIC built would be a major technical, scientific, administrative and political challenge, even for a state committed to making it work.”
So why, despite all this, is state Senator Cris Dush of Jefferson County so adamant that Pennsylvania exit from ERIC?
In short: Dush has hopped on to the ERIC disinformation bandwagon. In January 2022, a right-wing website known for pushing conspiracy theories set its target on ERIC. In a series of articles, the website alleged that ERIC was in cahoots with Democrats. These allegations were baseless — ERIC is composed of officials from both parties and provides states with nonpartisan information — and yet, they spread like wildfire in right-leaning circles.
Within a week, the head elections official in Louisiana announced the state would be leaving ERIC. Since January 2022, nine Republican-led states have quit ERIC, and Oklahoma and North Carolina have advanced proposals that would make it difficult for them to join.

Every state that leaves ERIC is making it more difficult for election administrators to keep their state’s voter rolls up to date. With each state that leaves, the data set that election officials use to remove dead and double voters grows smaller. This is universally acknowledged, even by those who criticize ERIC. Here in Pennsylvania, we can’t succumb to this conspiracy theory.

Sen. Dush submitted legislation in May to remove Pennsylvania from ERIC, and we could see a floor vote on this shortly after the Senate reconvenes this fall. We need to tell our lawmakers to reject this effort.

More than that, we need to support the small group of Pennsylvanians who think about our voter rolls nearly all the time by urging our lawmakers to pass HB 847, a bill that would allow election officials to begin preparing mail-in ballots for counting before Election Day. We’ve all had enough of the conspiracy theories, and we should be moving forward, not back.