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Ohio becomes latest Republican state to leave a key voting data partnership

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, speaks on election night on Nov. 8, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio.
Jay LaPrete
/
AP
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, speaks on election night on Nov. 8, 2022, in Columbus, Ohio.

Updated March 17, 2023 at 5:19 PM ET

Ohio on Friday announced it was the latest Republican-led state to pull out of a key election partnership that has become the focal point of conspiracies on the far-right.

The Ohio secretary of state, Frank LaRose — a Republican who is widely considered to be eyeing a run for U.S. Senate in 2024 — sent a letter to the executive director of the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, announcing the decision soon after the bipartisan compact's member states held a meeting Friday.

"ERIC has chosen repeatedly to ignore demands to embrace reforms that would bolster confidence in its performance, encourage growth in its membership, and ensure not only its present stability but also its durability," LaRose wrote. "Rather, you have chosen to double-down on poor strategic decisions, which have only resulted in the transformation of a previously bipartisan organization to one that appears to favor only the interests of one political party."

ERIC is a multi-state partnership that experts across the political spectrum say is the only reliable, secure way for states to share voter data with each other. The coalition allows states to 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 that we have for maintaining the accuracy of our voter files."

But beginning last year, far-right media began to target the organization, arguing that it was actually a way Democrats were rigging elections in their favor.

The groundswell continued, and Ohio and other Republican states began pushing for changes to ERIC's membership agreement and bylaws, to lessen what member states would be required to do. One key desire was to no longer be required to reach out to eligible but unregistered voters, as ERIC's current governing documents mandate.

LaRose in his letter Friday reiterated his desire to permit "member states to utilize ERIC's data-sharing services 'a la carte,' in the manner which they believe best serves their local interests."

The ERIC board, which consists of representatives from every member state, met Friday to consider changes that LaRose, among other Republicans, had been demanding in recent months. None of the proposed changes regarding how the states use ERIC data passed, though the board did vote in favor of eliminating non-voting members from the organization.

"The mouse never goes away"

That aspect of the negotiations had become tense over the past few months, as the organization weighed whether to essentially cut ties with election attorney and expert David Becker, who helped create ERIC when he was working at the Pew Charitable Trusts more than a decade ago.

Many of the conspiracy theories about ERIC centered on Becker, who is generally well-respected in the election community despite efforts on the right to paint him as partisan.

In the end, Becker announced early in the week that he would not accept re-nomination to his current position as the sole non-voting board member, and the organization then voted Friday to eliminate those positions completely.

"Any organization has to 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. "A variety of elected officials have thought they could just give the mouse a cookie and it'll go away. The mouse never goes away."

Six Republican states have now either pulled out or announced an intention to pull out — all since early 2022. None has elaborated on how they plan to keep their lists up to date without the trove of data they were receiving from the bipartisan partnership.

"It actually hurts that state more than it hurts us," said Brad Raffensperger — the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, another state in ERIC — after Alabama announced it was leaving earlier this year. "They just indirectly said, 'Oh, we're going to have dirtier voter rolls over here.' "

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
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