The Journal Gazette
Tuesday, February 25, 2020 1:00 am

Voter rollover

Interstate consortium would help Indiana in keeping its election lists current

John H. Merrill and Brad Raffensperger

The Indiana legislature could be making a big mistake – one that could harm the integrity of Indiana's elections for years to come. In the current environment, with foreign adversaries attempting to interfere in our elections, we – as conservative Republican secretaries of state in charge of elections in our home states – hope to provide guidance that could correct this perilous course.

Voter lists are at the heart of election integrity. If lists contain only those eligible to vote in a state, with correct information on where those voters live, an election is far more likely to go smoothly, and opportunities for fraud are significantly reduced. But when voter lists contain many extra records (for those who have moved out of state or died, for instance), or many out-of-date records (for those who have moved elsewhere in the state), problems and chaos increase.

Research confirms there are millions of out-of-date records on voter rolls nationwide. It's difficult to keep voter lists accurate, with millions of voters moving or dying between elections, and historically states and counties don't get good information they need to keep them up to date. But we've made progress on cleaning up the lists in the last few years.

We and many of our colleagues from both parties have joined a voluntary nonprofit consortium of states called the Electronic Registration Information Center. ERIC is a sophisticated data center that securely reviews data from the states and tells a state when it has a voter record that's no longer accurate, enabling that state to remove or correct the record.

Each state governs ERIC as a member of the board of directors, and that group of states is growing. There are currently 30 states in ERIC, including every state that borders Indiana.

ERIC is bipartisan, with slightly more than half of the states in ERIC led by Republicans. We govern and pay to maintain ERIC, with most of us paying much less than $50,000 per year to keep our voter lists clean, and it's very much worth it.

No other system can do what ERIC does because ERIC uses the highest quality software and data – data from bureaus of motor vehicles and other sources that's the most accurate about where people live. This data and software are not available through any other source. And, we can testify, it works.

Since its founding in 2012, ERIC has identified nearly 14 million records that were no longer valid, including well more than 300,000 voters who had died.

And in the next two years, with some of the new states that have joined, that number is about to skyrocket, enabling the ERIC states to have the cleanest rolls in their history.

Estimates are that ERIC could help Indiana identify more than 350,000 invalid records in the first year of its membership, including nearly 10,000 dead people still on the voter rolls, thus greatly reducing the potential for unnecessary expense, problems at the polls and allegations of fraud. All this would cost the state less than $30,000 the first year – around $3 for each dead person on the voter list.

Nevertheless, the legislature is on the verge of prohibiting Indiana from joining our efforts for clean voter lists. Senate Bill 334, among other things, prohibits Indiana from “payment of funds to obtain voter registration information from another state.” This provision would prevent Indiana's membership in ERIC, and also prevent it from paying for any voter info from any of its neighbors.

Interestingly, the bill then requires Indiana build a whole new system, seeking to do what ERIC already does, but not as well. This system would cost millions to create, subject Indiana to huge liability if anything goes wrong, and require the active participation of other states which, we can tell you, will not be forthcoming.

We and our colleagues have no need to send voters' personal data to a speculative, untested, potentially insecure system built by Indiana, when a better, cheaper and entirely secure system already exists – one that all member states govern and oversee.

In fact, Indiana has already written to ERIC members in bordering states, seeking free voter data, and gauging interest in a new system. Those states have told them no, referring them only to the process for anyone to receive the public voter file only.

We know the Indiana legislature cares deeply about election integrity, and we hope that more information will correct any misconceptions they hold about voter list maintenance and ERIC. In the current environment, we cannot afford to disarm ourselves from using the highest-quality tools. We and our other colleagues would be happy to inform this process and help, and hopefully bring the benefits of ERIC to the Hoosier State.

Republican John H. Merrill, left, is Alabama's secretary of state and Republican Brad Raffensperger is Georgia's secretary of state.

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