Ohio and Iowa have abruptly joined a parade of Republican-led states leaving a multistate voter roll program as right-wing media spread false information about the organization.
Last week, both Republican secretaries of state announced that they will leave the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a non-partisan program that’s been used by over 30 states to help clean up voter rolls for years. While some red state officials have argued that they left the program because it hasn’t accepted their requests for reform, most didn’t have a problem with the program until ERIC became the latest target of George Soros-based conspiracy theories.
“The action Ohio is taking today follows nearly a year of good faith, bipartisan efforts to reform ERIC’s oversight and services,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose wrote in a letter. “Unfortunately, these attempts to save what could be an unparalleled election integrity service have fallen short.”
He made the announcement during a meeting with ERIC officials on Friday, where member states voted on how to govern the organization. Some members disagreed on whether ERIC should require states to contact people who may be eligible to vote yet haven’t registered. LaRose reportedly pushed to allow states to do whatever they wanted with the data ERIC provided, but his proposal, among other initiatives, failed at Friday’s meeting.
Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate complained that the failed votes don’t “allow each member to do what’s best for their respective state.”
“Ultimately, the departure of several key states and today’s vote is going to impact the ability for ERIC to be an effective tool for the State of Iowa,” he said. “My office will be recommending resigning our membership from ERIC.”
LaRose wasn’t the only Republican state official pushing to change the program: Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd, who withdrew from the program earlier this month, also cited reform efforts as its reason. “Florida has tried to back reforms to increase protections, but these protections were refused,” he said in a statement. “Therefore, we have lost confidence in ERIC.”
Most Republican officials only began pushing these reforms after conspiracy theories began percolating in the far-right corners of the internet. Throughout January 2022, the Gateway Pundit published a series of blog posts accusing the program of being run and funded by liberal activists. Among their claims were that David Becker, an election law advocate who helped found ERIC in 2012, was secretly pulling the strings to help Democrats, and that the billionaire philanthropist George Soros funded the program.
In reality, Becker sat on the program’s board as a non-voting member, and Soros never directly contributed funds to it.
ERIC’s executive director Shane Hamlin tried to dissuade unfounded concerns about the program in an open letter published on March 2. “We are a member-run, member-driven organization,” he explained. “State election officials—our members—govern ERIC and fund our day-to-day operations through payment of annual dues, which they set for themselves.”
But it didn’t matter. Several states chose to leave ERIC before and after the letter’s publication. Louisiana withdrew from the program last January, while Alabama withdrew this past January. Florida, West Virginia and Missouri all followed suit in March, and now, Iowa and Ohio can be added to the list. Texas and Alaska, meanwhile, have both shown interest in abandoning the program as well.
Becker has since announced his retirement from the board due to the conspiracy theories.