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Iowa withdrawing from interstate program for voter registration sharing
Program helped state find 36 cases of duplicate voting in 2018
DES MOINES — Iowa no longer will participate in a multistate program in which states share voter registration information in order to manage their own voting lists and prevent election fraud, the state’s top elections official announced recently.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, said he is recommending Iowa withdraw from the bipartisan interstate voter program, Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC.
Iowa and Ohio became the sixth and seventh states — all led by Republican elections officials — signaling withdrawal from ERIC, according to Politico.
Former President Donald Trump, a Republican, has attacked ERIC with unproven claims that the program boosts voter registration for Democrats, and the program has been the target of conspiracy theories, prompting its executive director to issue a statement earlier this month to address, in the director’s words, “recent misinformation spreading about ERIC.”
In a statement issued via social media last week, Pate said he is “disappointed in the direction the ERIC organization has taken” and that he decided to leave the group after the membership voted against adopting changes recommended by Republican state leaders.
Among the chief complaints expressed by those Republicans is how ERIC reaches out to unregistered voters to encourage them to register.
Pate also cited the departure of other states, which he said makes the program’s shared voter registration lists less effective.
“Election integrity is my No. 1 priority. Clean, accurate voter lists are critical to running secure elections and the loss of those states’ data makes participation in ERIC no longer valuable to Iowa,” Pate said in the statement. “My office will be recommending resigning our membership from ERIC.”
That will require legislation, and Iowa Rep. Bobby Kaufmann, a Republican from Wilton who has managed elections legislation in recent sessions of the Iowa Legislature, said he supports Pate’s decision and stands ready to get any legislation passed.
“(ERIC) was supposed to be used to allow states to talk to each other, to allow voter rolls to talk to each other,” Kaufmann said. “It was supposed to be a living, breathing list for voter maintenance. I think it’s since grown into something completely different.”
Kaufmann also expressed his opposition to ERIC’s voter registration outreach.
“That’s the role of the political party, not of a nonpartisan voter registration list,” Kaufmann said. “That’s activism. I don’t want it on either side, our side or the Democratic side.”
Some local elections officials in Iowa have expressed concern that the state’s withdrawal from ERIC will make their job of managing voter registration lists more difficult.
Pat Gill, the Woodbury County auditor and a Democrat, said from what he has been able to discern, the recent issues with ERIC have been “the result of partisan wrangling” and said he is “mystified” why Pate has chosen to leave the program.
“Actually, it has been a pretty good tool for helping county auditors keep our voter registration rolls up to date,” Gill said. “Iowa’s county auditors have been responding in a positive way to citizens who have been providing information to help clean up our registration rolls, and the loss of ERIC will definitely be a setback to our efforts.”
In response to questions about Pate’s decision, a spokesman for his office said that while ERIC’s data has been valuable, the recent exodus of some large states makes the data less useful, and some surrounding states refuse to join the program.
The spokesman for Pate’s office also asserted that ERIC “was telling (states) how to run their elections instead of letting states choose the appropriate ERIC tools that worked best within their state.”
In 2019, through Iowa’s use of ERIC, Pate referred nine voters to county attorneys for voting twice in the 2018 general election. The nine voters were suspected of voting in Iowa after casting a ballot in another state; another 27 instances were found of voters casting ballots in Iowa first, then in another state.
Pate’s spokesman and Kaufmann said Iowa without ERIC still will be able to maintain accurate voter registration lists and catch voter fraud.
“ERIC was only one of many tools used to update and maintain Iowa’s voter registration list,” the spokesman said. “Our office will continue to look at ways to maintain clean, accurate voter rolls and look at new options for obtaining valuable data.”
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