Texas Sets Off Right-Wing Bidding War With ERIC Departure

FREDERICKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 08: A volunteer election official holds stickers reading I Voted in the City of Fredericksburg and Future Voter at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3103 polling location on November 8, ... FREDERICKSBURG, VA - NOVEMBER 08: A volunteer election official holds stickers reading I Voted in the City of Fredericksburg and Future Voter at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3103 polling location on November 8, 2022 in Fredericksburg, Virginia. After months of candidates campaigning, Americans are voting in the midterm elections to decide close races across the nation. (Photo by Anna Rose Layden/Getty Images) MORE LESS
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For years, voter fraud activist Alan Vera made a regular pilgrimage to the Texas state Capitol. He urged lawmakers to pass laws tightening registration requirements, and grew close enough with GOP legislators that, when his birthday came around this past April, they serenaded him with “Happy Birthday” while giving him a big cookie with a candle to blow out.

Last month, Vera died at the state House while waiting to testify in favor of more voter fraud-propelled legislation.

The law he was helping to craft, passed last week, will remove Texas from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), an interstate agreement designed to prevent instances of voter fraud, like double voting, while increasing registrations by sharing voter roll information between the states. Lawmakers named that bill — SB 1070 — after Vera.

The Alan Vera Memorial Act both forces the state to leave ERIC, and also to find a replacement vendor — one that can do what ERIC does with a start-up cost of $100,000 or less, and at a cost of $1 per voter status change identified.

Texas’ departure from ERIC comes after a slew of other red states left the network earlier this year amid a pressure campaign from right-wing media and voter fraud conspiracy theorists who alleged that the network, in theory a voter fraud proponent’s best friend, was in fact an activist group funded by George Soros.

But the Texas law comes with a unique twist: it forces the Texas Secretary of State to hire a “private sector data system” to replace ERIC, opening the state up to jostling for that position from some of the same people who helped paint ERIC as a failure to begin with.

“There are a lot of state and federal laws that prevent private vendors from getting that kind of matching criteria,” Daniel Griffith, a Senior Policy Director at Secure Democracy USA, told TPM, saying that it would be “theoretically very difficult.”

Texas’s decision to depart comes after a year-long campaign by right-wingers to smear ERIC as a Soros-backed entity that fails to root out voter fraud while playing what they describe as an activist role, supposedly forcing member states to register even more voters.

At its peak, ERIC had 32 member states. The more data the organization has, the more effectively it can fulfill its mission. Someone moving from Chicago to Houston who trades in their Illinois driver’s license for a Texas one, for example, would be caught by ERIC’s trackers so long as Texas and Illinois are members, giving ERIC DMV info.

But amid the conspiracy theories, launched mostly by 2020 election deniers without much evidence, some conservative states have abandoned ERIC. Louisiana, Virginia, West Virginia, Alabama, Missouri, and Florida have all left the organization. Meanwhile former President Trump has given the accusations a heightened platform, posting on Truth Social in early March that the group “pumps the rolls” for Democrats.

Jay Valentine, an Austin-area businessman, played a key role in spreading unfounded claims that ERIC was missing reams of voter fraud data. He wrote a series of columns for right-wing conspiracy website Gateway Pundit describing ERIC as aimed at “voter roll fattening,” while claiming to possess a technology called “fractal programming” which could do the job better.

David Becker, a former nonvoting member of ERIC’s board who departed the group in March due to the attacks, told TPM that Gateway Pundit had played a role in fomenting the tidal wave of pressure that led to multiple states leaving ERIC.

“ERIC makes it harder for losers to claim an election was stolen,” Becker remarked.

Valentine told TPM that former Milwaukee County Sheriff, self-described cowboy and Fox News fixture David Clarke called him in the days after the 2020 election, and requested that he run data on voter rolls in the area.

“I never saw a voter roll in my life until Sheriff Clarke gave me one,” Valentine claimed.

From there, Valentine said that he began to apply “fractal” programming to several states and localities, finding a series of “anomalies” that, he said, rendered the outcome of the 2020 election unknowable.

Valentine is one of several people who claim that ERIC is fraudulent and are offering up solutions. These people all make versions of the same claim: their systems keep voter rolls cleaner than ERIC does, do it more cheaply, and from the outside. In addition to Valentine, Arizona election denier Mark Finchem is reportedly working on his own ERIC alternative, while a mysterious platform called “Eagle AI” has also been mentioned among right-wingers.

Experts say that none of these efforts have a real chance at success.

The key to ERIC, experts said, is that it relies on data from multiple state governments, which are only available to those governments, to scan for duplicate voters. Without that shared data, it would be virtually impossible for an outside vendor to do what the system does.

Valentine isn’t without connections to the broader Trump universe. John Eastman, the Trump attorney who articulated legal theories in service of the former President’s effort to reverse his 2020 loss, tapped Valentine for a deposition in his upcoming effort to convince the state of California not to disbar him. Valentine told TPM he’s already sat for the interview. Mike Lindell, the MyPillow CEO and voter fraud showman, paid for Valentine’s project, called Omega4America, to analyze two state’s voter rolls, he said.

Alan Vera, the namesake of the Texas anti-ERIC bill, also worked with Valentine, he told TPM. At a February meeting of a Texas task force designed to tackle ERIC, Vera suggested that the group consider using Valentine’s software as a replacement.

Valentine offered in the call with TPM to set up his “fractal programming” system for free for Texas.

“I could implement our system for the entire state of Texas in about two weeks,” he said.

The Texas Secretary of State has other options. The agency said in March that it was appointing an official to develop its own, in-house version of ERIC.

Matt Braynard, whose nonprofit Look Ahead America has organized vigils for January 6 defendants, has flirted with joining the bidding war in Texas. He told TPM about how his nonprofit combined public voter roll information with postal service change of residence data to perform some of the same voter roll checks that ERIC does.

“To get to 100 percent, you need complete state data, and that’s just not something that we necessarily have access to,” he said.

Braynard added that he was trying to develop an ERIC “alternative” that would flag duplicate voters, run by him and “somebody on the left.”

“If Texas signs up, you could probably get a lot of the states that left the ERIC system to sign up,” he said.

It’s far from clear that the Texas Secretary of State will go with any of the various proposals.

Experts told TPM that the most likely outcome is that the state lands back where it was before it joined ERIC — in 2019, when it faced lawsuits over an attempt to remove non-citizens from the voter rolls that resulted in thousands of people being purged from the voter rolls.

Griffith, the Secure Democracy expert, told TPM that that experience should give Texas a sense of what is to come.

“Among all states, Texas should have a unique perspective in terms of what not having accurate information about potential removal of voters can do and the damage that can be wrought,” he said.

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