The Oklahoma state legislature approved a bill this week that would make it difficult for the state to join the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a voter roll maintenance program it’s not even enrolled in. It’s been sent to Gov. Kevin Stitt’s (R) desk to be signed.
Oklahoma law currently allows the state election board to join “one or more multistate voter list maintenance organizations including, but not limited to, [ERIC] or its successor.”
But House Bill 2052, introduced by Rep. Eric Roberts (R-Oklahoma City) on Tuesday, would remove the explicit reference to ERIC and change requirements for enlisting Oklahoma in any multistate voter roll program.
The bill would prohibit the state from joining any multistate organization that requires outreach to Oklahomans who may be eligible to vote but aren’t registered, allows people who are not elected officials on its governing board, or shares voter data with a third party – all of which are features of ERIC, the program that’s now at the center of the far-right’s latest election-related conspiracy theories.
ERIC was founded by Pew Charitable Trusts in 2012 as a joint bipartisan effort between seven states with the help of election law advocate David Becker. It was designed to help states compare voter data across state lines since there’s no national voter database, and it’s been praised by both Democrat and Republican state officials for years for helping states identify instances of double voting.
But early last year, the Gateway Pundit published a series of blog posts accusing ERIC of being a liberal plot, funded by billionaire philanthropist George Soros, designed to undermine the democratic process. Soros has donated to Pew in the past, but never directly to the organization. But as a result, eight Republican-led states, including founding member Virginia, have withdrawn from the program over the past year, while Becker resigned as a non-voting, ex-officio board member due to the conspiracy theories.
In a Tuesday press release, the Oklahoma State House of Representatives cited since-debunked accusations about the program, saying the move was motivated by “serious security and privacy issues” that they claim the organization has refused to address.
“The bill requirements make ERIC ineligible for Oklahoma membership because of the organization’s repeated refusal to accept reforms that many member states demanded,” they wrote.
Their reasoning mirrors that of other Republican-led states that have recently pulled out of the program. Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd (R), for example, gave a similar rationale when the state withdrew from ERIC back in March.
“As a Secretary of State, I have an obligation to protect the personal information of Florida’s citizens, which the ERIC agreement requires us to share,” he said in a March 6 statement. “Florida has tried to back reforms to increase protections, but these protections were refused. Therefore, we have lost confidence in ERIC.”
Roberts, the Oklahoma City Republican who sponsored the bill, argued in the Tuesday statement that his goal is to “improve transparency, data privacy and voter integrity in our elections.”
“If citizens don’t have confidence in the election system, our Republic loses,” he said. “The goal here is to improve transparency, data privacy and voter integrity in our elections.”
But there have been multiple attempts by ERIC executive director Shane Hamlin to squelch conspiracy theories about the program’s security, including in an open letter he published on March 2 addressing the claims .
“ERIC is never connected to any state’s voter registration system,” he explained. “Members retain complete control over their voter rolls and they use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws.”
Considering Texas is mulling its own withdrawal as we speak, the letter doesn’t seem to have been effective in convincing red state officials to ignore the disinfo.