Ohio announced Friday that it is the latest Republican-led state to withdraw from a key electoral partnership that has become the center of far-right conspiracies.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose — a Republican widely believed to be hoping to run for the U.S. Senate in 2024 — sent a letter to the executive director of the Electronic Enrollment Information Center, or ERIC, announcing the decision shortly after bipartisan state- compact members held a meeting on Friday.
“ERIC has repeatedly chosen to ignore calls to adopt reforms that would strengthen the credibility of its performance, encourage the growth of its members, and ensure not only its current stability, but its longevity,” LaRose wrote. “Rather, you have chosen to double down on poor strategic decisions that have only resulted in the transformation of a previously bipartisan organization into one that appears to favor the interests of only one political party.”
ERIC is a partnership between states that experts from across the political spectrum say is the only reliable and secure way for states to share voter data with each other. The coalition lets states know when voters move or die so they can keep their lists of registered voters more up-to-date.
Just last month, in an interview with NPR, LaRose called ERIC “one of the best tools we have for maintaining the accuracy of our election files.”
But early last year, far-right media outlets began targeting the organization, claiming it was actually how Democrats rigged elections in their favor.
The upheaval continued, and Ohio and other Republican states began pushing for changes to ERIC’s membership agreement and bylaws to reduce what member states had to do. A key desire was to no longer be required to reach out to eligible but unregistered voters as required by current ERIC guidance documents.
In Friday’s letter, LaRose reiterated his desire to allow “member states to use ERIC’s data sharing services ‘a la carte’ in the way they believe best serves their local interests.”
The ERIC board, which is made up of representatives from each member state, met Friday to discuss the changes that LaRose, along with other Republicans, have been pushing for in recent months. None of the proposed changes to how states use ERIC data were adopted, although the board voted in favor of eliminating non-voting members from the organization.
“The Mouse Never Goes Away”
That aspect of the negotiations has become strained in the past few months as the organization weighs whether to essentially sever ties with election lawyer and pundit David Becker, who helped create ERIC when he worked at the Pew Charitable Trusts more than a decade ago.
Many of the conspiracy theories about ERIC have focused on Becker, who is generally well-respected in the voting community despite efforts by the right to paint him as a partisan.
In the end, Becker announced earlier in the week that he would not accept re-nomination for his current position as the board’s sole non-voting member, and then the organization voted Friday to eliminate those positions entirely.
“Any organization should be really careful about thinking that you can respond to bullies and conspiracy theorists by capitulating to them,” Becker told NPR in an interview last month. “Various elected officials have thought they could just give a mouse a cookie and it would go away. The mouse never goes away.”
Six Republican states have already either withdrawn or announced plans to withdraw — all since early 2022. None have specified how they plan to keep their lists up-to-date without the wealth of data they’ve been getting from the bipartisan partnership.
“It actually hurts this state more than it hurts us,” Brad Raffensperger — the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, another ERIC state — said after Alabama announced it was leaving earlier this year. “They just implicitly said, ‘Oh, we’re going to have dirtier voters here.’ “