Iowa joins red-wave exodus from multistate compact seeking accuracy of voter lists

By: - March 22, 2023 3:10 pm

Des Moines voters speak with poll workers at Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd on Nov. 3, 2020. (Photo by Linh Ta/Iowa Capital Dispatch)

Iowa is joining a number of other Republican-led states in moving to pull out of a multistate organization that works to improve the accuracy of voter rolls and increase voter registration.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate, a Republican, announced last week he was taking the step to separate from the Electronic Registration Information Center, which has come under fire from some in the right-wing media and former President Donald Trump.

In a Twitter post, Pate said he was “disappointed in the direction” the organization has taken and that a “failed vote to amend the membership agreement doesn’t allow each member to do what’s best for their respective state.”

Pate’s position appears quite different from what it was a month ago, when he called the organization known as ERIC a “godsend,” according to a National Public Radio report. Pate also defended ERIC in a Twitter post in February.

ERIC was founded by seven states in cooperation with the Pew Charitable Trusts in 2012 after a study was published saying that roughly 1 out of 8 voter registrations were no longer valid or were significantly inaccurate – and that at least 51 million eligible U.S. citizens weren’t registered to vote.

As of last year, its bipartisan membership had grown to more than 30 states and Washington, D.C. Iowa joined in 2018.

According to ERIC’s web site, states voluntarily submit voter registration and motor vehicle data to the center, which then provides “list maintenance” reports to member states that identify voters who have moved both within states or from one member state to another. It also identifies duplicate registrations and voters who have died.

Member states must request at least one of the reports at least once a year.

ERIC also offers other reports, including one that identifies people who appear to be eligible to vote but aren’t registered. Member states are required to send voter registration information to potentially eligible but unregistered individuals at least once every two years.

ERIC has been widely praised by its members who operate it.

Iowa Secretary of State Paul Pate. (Photo courtesy Iowa Secretary of State)

In a tweet last month, Pate called ERIC an “effective tool for ensuring the integrity of Iowa’s voter rolls,” saying it had helped identify more than 1,300 deceased voters who weren’t included in Iowa Department of Public Health data.

The tweet was in response to another Twitter user who wanted to know how Iowa could leave ERIC and if it took an act of the Legislature.

In 2018, Pate’s office announced it was joining ERIC, saying it would help improve the accuracy of voter rolls, register more eligible voters and reduce costs.

The exodus of red states from ERIC began last year after several reports were published on the Gateway Pundit web site, which called the organization “essentially a left wing voter registration drive” that is funded by George Soros.

Since then, activists have pressured Republican officials about the organization. Trump also called for red states to leave ERIC earlier this month.

Louisiana said last year it was pulling out. Alabama notified ERIC in January it was leaving. Then, Florida, Missouri and West Virginia officials announced on the same day earlier this month their states were leaving, too.

Florida’s exit was announced just two months after the office of election crimes and security in its state department said it had used ERIC data to identify nearly 1,200 voters who appear to have cast ballots in Florida and one other member state during the same election.

In his tweet last week, Pate said he was recommending that Iowa leave ERIC, but it’s not clear who the recommendation goes to. The ERIC web site said Iowa’s resignation from the board will be effective in June.

Asked to explain Pate’s decision and elaborate on his reference to the failed vote and direction of the organization, a spokesman for the secretary of state’s office issued a statement Wednesday that said: “While ERIC’s data has been valuable, unfortunately large states left the organization and took their data with them. Surrounding states, with useful data, refuse to join.”

The statement added that states left because the organization was “telling them how to run their elections.” It didn’t elaborate on what that meant, but earlier this month, Ohio’s secretary of state, Frank LaRose, suggested states might stay if changes were made to ERIC’s bylaws, including removing ex-officio board members and eliminating requirements like the one that mailings be sent to unregistered voters.

ERIC has defended itself amid the controversy. In a letter this month addressing “misinformation,” Shane Hamlin, ERIC’s executive director, said the organization was founded to improve the accuracy of voter rolls and to register more voters. “We are a member-run, member-driven organization. State election officials – our members – govern ERIC and fund our day-to-day operations through payment of annual dues, which they set for themselves,” Hamlin said.

Media critics of ERIC have focused attention on a non-voting board member, David Becker, who helped found ERIC and is executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research, or CEIR, which has been targeted by some on the right.

A letter from a group of Republicans involved in elections and the administration of voting defended Becker, praising him as somebody who has worked in the elections field on a bipartisan basis for 25 years. Still, Becker tweeted March 14 he would not seek renomination to ERIC’s board and that his term expired last week. He added, “I fear that the attacks on ERIC are part of a larger campaign to weaken democracy, as election officials continue to face threats and harassment.”

It’s not clear what impact Iowa’s departure from the organization will have here. Pate’s office said ERIC was one tool available and the office “will continue to look at ways to maintain clean, accurate voter rolls and look at new options for obtaining valuable data.”

Black Hawk County Auditor Grant Veeder, a Democrat, said that he didn’t know why Pate was planning to leave ERIC, “but I thought it was a good way to clean up voter lists.”

Meanwhile, Travis Weipert, a Democrat who is the Johnson County auditor, said Republicans in Iowa talk repeatedly about voter integrity, but he added, “the fact we’re pulling out of this is the absolute opposite of what they talk about.”

Kerri Tompkins, a Republican who is the Scott County auditor, declined to comment on the matter, saying counties aren’t a part of this decision.

Our stories may be republished online or in print under Creative Commons license CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. We ask that you edit only for style or to shorten, provide proper attribution and link to our web site. Please see our republishing guidelines for use of photos and graphics.

Ed Tibbetts
Ed Tibbetts

Ed Tibbetts, of Davenport, has covered politics, government and trends for more than three decades in the Quad-Cities. A former reporter and editorial page editor for the Quad-City Times, he now is a freelance journalist who publishes the Along the Mississippi newsletter on Substack. He is a member of the Iowa Writers’ Collaborative.