An Alabama “election denier” is leading the state’s effort to withdraw from a national organization that fights voter fraud

Guy in a suit behind the podium

Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen speaks during the dedication ceremony on the steps of the Alabama state capital Monday, January 16, 2023 in Montgomery, Alabama.AP Photo/Butch Dill

  • Alabama’s top election official is pulling the state out of a nonprofit organization called ERIC.

  • ERIC assists more than 30 states in identifying voters who may be registered in more than one jurisdiction.

  • The group has been targeted by conspiracy theorists who falsely claim it was funded by George Soros.

Spurred by misinformation and false claims about billionaire philanthropist George Soros, Alabama’s top elections official announced this week that he is withdrawing from a group that helps prevent voter fraud, despite claims it marred the last presidential election.

Since 2020, conspiracy theorists who claim the vote was rigged against former President Donald Trump have gone from villain to villain, nabbing everything from the makers of voting machines to the state of Italy. The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) is the newest target.

Established in 2012, ERIC began as a collaboration of election officials in seven states, four of which were Republican. It collects data from motor vehicle departments and voter rolls from its members — now more than 30, including several deep red states — identifying, among other things, individuals who may be registered to vote in more than one state.

In 2022, ERIC helped members uncover more than 203,000 duplicate entries for potential voters and removed more than 65,000 deceased individuals from their registers, according to statistics released by the organization.

A strong outlier

Officials, including Republicans, have credited the organization with helping clean up their voter rolls and prevent fraudulent votes. But Wes Allen, who was elected Secretary of State for Alabama last fall, wants out.

“I made a promise to the people of Alabama that ending our state’s relationship with the ERIC organization would be my first act as secretary of state,” the former Republican lawmaker said in a statement released a day after he was sworn in on Jan. 16. He framed the decision as a matter of privacy and said he disagreed “[p]Provision of private information of citizens of Alabama, including underage minors, to an extra-governmental organization.”

Allen, a former state legislature, has been called an “election denier” by the States United Democracy Center, a bipartisan group campaigning for election integrity, for supporting the annulment of the 2020 election results.

In an interview with The Birmingham News last year, Allen claimed that Alabama’s own election was clean — Trump won the state in a landslide victory — but questioned the “chaos and confusion” elsewhere, telling the paper, it is “vital that Americans know only that legal ballots are being cast and that ballots are counted in a legal manner.”

Despite this, Allen has decided to withdraw Alabama from the only organization that allows states to clean up their voter rolls, removing those who have moved to other jurisdictions to prevent anyone from voting in more than one location.

His official statement announcing the decision was a significantly watered down version of what he said before he took office. In a statement on his now-deleted 2022 campaign website, he offered more red meat to Republican primary voters and falsely described ERIC as a “Soros-funded, left-wing group.”

“Soros can take his minions and his database and troll someone else because the Alabamaans will forever be taboo,” Allen said in the post.

Allen’s office did not respond to Insider requests for comment.

Where did the misinformation come from

Although it is now funded entirely by government membership dues, the Pew Charitable Trusts provided ERIC with its initial seed funding, which is the unifying basis for the Soros claim: The billionaire’s own charitable organization once provided Pew with a $500,000 grant Available for just over 1/100 percent of the charity’s annual funding.

Over the past year, the organization emerged from obscurity to become the far-right internet’s newest boogeyman. The stories attacking the organization are heavily implied, but the crux of the matter was made by a writer for The American Conservative, who accused the group of being a far-left front group using the guise of anti-fraud to promote a “get out of the… thing to pursue” – vote on the agenda” at the taxpayer’s expense.

ERIC itself does not register voters. And because those who may be eligible to vote are identified using data from automotive departments, federal privacy laws prevent the organization from sharing its list with anyone other than the state governments, which send postcards to those who have been tagged.

But the bogus claims were enough to prompt Louisiana’s own Republican secretary of state to announce last year that it was suspending participation in ERIC, a spokesman told news site Votebeat that was due to “numerous” concerns about “election stuff.”

However, these are outliers, even among right-wing politicians.

John Merrill, former Secretary of State for Alabama and a conservative Republican himself, said The Alabama Political Reporter that “this continued narrative that ERIC is a George Soros system is not true. ERIC was not founded or funded by George Soros and to claim otherwise is either dishonest or misinformed.”

“A key tool for election integrity”

That the group is a “Soros-funded leftist group” would be news to the state of Texas, which joined the ERIC a few months ahead of the 2020 election. Sam Taylor, a spokesman for Texas Secretary of State Jane Nelson, a Republican, told Insider that when it comes to cleaning up the voter rolls, there is literally no alternative because there is “the only such cross-checking program.”

“Texas used the valuable data provided by ERIC to identify duplicate voter registrations between states, voters who may have cast a vote in Texas and another state, and potential votes cast on behalf of deceased individuals,” Taylor said, calling the organization “a key tool for electoral integrity in Texas.”

Merrill was pleased with what he saw in his 8 years at ERIC.

The secretary’s job “is to ensure the integrity of the elections,” he told Insider, “and when you’re trying to ensure the integrity of the elections, you have to evaluate all the options available to continue trying to find the safest one that is possible.” safest environment for transparency and accountability that can be provided.”

Merrill, the former leader of the Alabama Republican Party and now a private citizen, expressed reluctance when asked about his successor’s decision and whether it will make it harder to prevent fraud in his state.

“I trust he has evaluated the merits of the relationship between the state and ERIC and determined that it is in the best interests of the people of the state of Alabama to separate,” Merrill told Insider.

As for ERIC, Shane Hamlin, the group’s chief executive, told Insider that she will honor Allen’s resignation request, although according to the group’s bylaws, it won’t be official until April. With or without Alabama, he said, ERIC will continue to focus on “improving the accuracy of America’s voter rolls and increasing access to voter registration for all eligible citizens.”

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