by Graham Moomaw, Virginia Mercury
May 12, 2023
Virginia is pulling out of a once-uncontroversial interstate program created to help states maintain accurate voter rolls that has recently drawn the ire of right-wing “election integrity” activists who see it as nefarious.
In a letter sent Thursday to the head of the Washington-based Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), Virginia Elections Commissioner Susan Beals said the state would no longer participate in the data-sharing program despite being one of seven founding states in 2012.
Beals listed a variety of reasons, including increased uncertainty and the declining participation of other Republican-led states, concerns about the “confidentiality of voter information” and “controversy surrounding the historical sharing of data with outside organizations leveraged for political purposes.”
“In short, ERIC’s mandate has expanded beyond that of its initial intent – to improve the accuracy of voter rolls,” Beals wrote.
The move may be the sharpest policy reversal yet for a Virginia Department of Elections now run by an appointee of Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who campaigned on election integrity in 2021.
Less than a year ago, a high-ranking state lawyer assigned to handle election issues by Republican Attorney General Jason Miyares defended ERIC’s usefulness in response to someone who contacted the office concerned that data gathered through the program was being shared with outside groups for partisan efforts. Josh Lief, whom the attorney general’s office has identified as one of the leaders of its election integrity unit, called ERIC “a benefit to the Commonwealth.”
“Virginia was a charter member and it has grown to 33 states including many conservative states like Texas and Florida,” Lief wrote. “Again, we joined when Bob McDonnell was Governor and Ken Cuccinelli was Attorney General. ERIC is used to clean up voter rolls and check for people that vote more than once in multiple states.”
That email from Lief was included in documents the Virginia NAACP obtained from Miyares’ office last year through a Freedom of Information Act request seeking details about Virginia’s election integrity unit.
The attorney general’s office took a different stance on ERIC Thursday.
“Attorney General Miyares has expressed concerns about ERIC and supports the governor’s decision today,” said Miyares spokeswoman Victoria LaCivita. “Our office stands ready and able to assist the department of elections during this transition.”
In her letter, Beals said Virginia would be able to “replicate favorable ERIC functionally internally.”
“We will pursue other information arrangements with our neighboring states and look to other opportunities to partner with states in an apolitical fashion,” Beals wrote.
On its website, ERIC says participating states “securely submit” voter registration data and motor vehicle department data that is merged with federal death and postal address records to create a more comprehensive view of who’s eligible to vote where.
“Utilizing these four data sources, ERIC provides its members with reports that identify inaccurate or out-of-date voter registration records, deceased voters, individuals who appear to be eligible to vote but who are not yet registered and possible cases of illegal voting,” the group says in an overview of its mission.
The move to pull Virginia out of the program swiftly drew condemnation from Democrats.
“They are making our elections less secure to play footsie with the MAGA fever swamp,” said Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. “ERIC works. And it’s had bipartisan support for many years because it works.”