Michelle Orengo-McFarlane looks for her name on a voter registration list in San Francisco. Some voters don’t discover they’ve been purged from the voter rolls until they go to vote. (File photo by David Paul Morris/Getty Images)
As the opening to “The Six Million Dollar Man” said: “We have the technology.”
Despite some politicians’ breathless but baseless claims about voter fraud, election officials in the United States actually have a sophisticated system to prevent it.
Voter fraud is rare in part because election officials do a pretty good job of removing opportunities for fraud by removing out-of-date registrations.
If registrations for deceased voters are routinely removed from the rolls, they can’t be used to illegally cast a ballot in the deceased person’s name.
If duplicate registrations at old addresses or in old names are routinely removed from the voter rolls, they can’t be used to vote twice.
Such list maintenance is a key part of every election official’s job and is required by federal law.
The best tool available for this is the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a sophisticated and secure data matching system developed in 2012 by Pew Charitable Trusts and election officials in Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia and Washington.
By the end of last year, 30 states and the District of Columbia were using ERIC, and the program had identified 3,612,516 cross-state duplicate registrations; 9,495,641 within-state duplicate registrations; and 334,833 records for deceased voters. The system found these records by regularly comparing state supplied voter registration lists to motor vehicle licensing agency data and the Social Security Administration master death index list.
To join ERIC, states must agree to a regular maintenance schedule of supplying and receiving data and processing the results.
This consistent maintenance schedule decreases mailing costs, eases election administration and reduces the already minimal risk of fraud. The director of ERIC once estimated to me that 96% of the records identified as belonging to deceased voters have been removed from the voter registration lists in ERIC states.
So why haven’t the other 20 states joined ERIC?
Especially now that Crosscheck, former Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach’s primitive and error-ridden tool for cross-state matching formerly used by 14 of the ERIC holdouts, has been sidelined by a federal judge due to inadequate data security?
Some states, including Kansas, say ERIC’s cost is the barrier. ERIC members must pay a $25,000 fee to join and an annual split of the ongoing operating costs, which for Kansas have been estimated at $18,000.
Focusing on out of pocket costs ignores the savings and efficiencies ERIC provides, such as lower mailing costs and fewer provisional ballots. States can also cancel costly individual subscriptions to the Social Security death index and U.S. Postal Service data.
To enroll all 20 non-member states in this program with known efficacy at improving election administration and preventing fraud would cost only $500,000, a puny amount compared to the $20 million, 50,000-person Republican effort to use the courts to block Democrats’ efforts to expand voting access to more eligible Americans.
Meanwhile, loud and well-funded voter fraud alarmists have not been moved to use part of their funding to expand ERIC or even to vigorously endorse its expansion to all 50 states — despite its proven ability to prevent fraud.
Curiously, Hans von Spakovsky, who was a firm advocate of the now-defunct and essentially useless Crosscheck program, didn’t seem interested in ERIC until January 2020. Even then, rather than pleading for the holdout states to get on board, he simply derided its narrow reach of (then) 25 states.
Instead, von Spakovsky and his cohort C. Christian Adams keep trying to use the courts to remove people from voter rolls. They routinely file lawsuits attempting to force election officials to aggressively purge voters from rolls by court order, relying on their own data sometimes supplied by dubious third party sources.
These efforts fail to acknowledge that a single vote denied damages election integrity exactly as much as a single fraudulent vote.
Given their reliance on bad data, their shunning of the ERIC program, and their lack of attention to protecting voters from being wrongly removed, these purges don’t appear to be in the spirit of preserving the integrity of the vote.
As Sherman Smith’s recent Kansas Reflector article documents, decades of casually made but never-substantiated claims of voter fraud are part of a multifaceted attempt by Republicans to choose their voters by denying the vote to those they cannot win over.
It’s time to move beyond election-integrity lip service as a cover story for attempts to suppress the vote.
We can advance both interests — protecting voting rights and minimizing fraud — by enrolling the twenty hold-out states in ERIC.
We have the technology. Let’s use it.
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