Right-wing conspiracy theories drive GOP-led states to pull out of important interstate voter data-sharing effort
Six Republican-led states have pulled out of the Electronic Registration Information Center following right-wing media’s baseless attacks
Right-wing media are continuing their relentless campaign to destabilize faith in elections by attacking a foundational tool for registering eligible voters and convincing six Republican-led states to pull out of the Electronic Registration Information Center. These attacks come on the heels of other right-wing efforts to discredit the foundations of American democracy by supporting the January 6 Capitol insurrection, expelling elected officials in Tennessee, spreading lies about vote counting machines, and fearmongering about voter fraud.
In January 2022, The Gateway Pundit launched a series of articles accusing the Electronic Registration Information Center of being a George Soros-funded “left wing voter registration drive disguised as voter roll clean up.” Other right-wing outlets followed suit, creating new narratives to frame a once-mundane data-sharing effort as a bad actor. Since this misinformation campaign began, six states have pulled out of ERIC, with Republican elected officials echoing theories promulgated by right-wing media. Former President Donald Trump also chimed in, posting on Truth Social that GOP-led states should “immediately pull out of ERIC, the terrible Voter Registration System that ‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats and does nothing to clean them up.”
ERIC was founded in 2012 as a means for states to share voter registration data with each other, allowing them to clean up voter rolls and contact unregistered potential voters. ERIC requires its dozens of member states to submit voter registration data, which is then used to identify voters who should be removed from the rolls as well as unregistered-but-eligible residents who states are then required to contact with registration information.
Four of ERIC’s original seven member states were led by Republicans, and GOP officials have praised the center’s work for years; in 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that his state would be joining ERIC, as “it will ensure our voter rolls are up-to-date and it will increase voter participation in our elections.” Now, however, the GOP is turning its back on ERIC at the urging of a right-wing misinformation campaign.
Right-wing media have crafted several narratives surrounding ERIC to continue sowing distrust in American elections. These bad-faith arguments include claiming that voter registration tools are partisan, that Meta’s Mark Zuckerberg is using his influence to unfairly advantage Democrats, that ERIC allows Democratic operatives to be in charge of voter rolls, and that ERIC is connected to right-wing boogeyman George Soros.
Conservative outlets claim ERIC is a Democratic operation that inflates voter rolls for partisan gain
In June 2022, far-right election denial group Verity Vote published a report outlining that ERIC shares the eligible-but-unregistered data with the Center for Election Innovation & Research, a nonprofit organization designed to “help election workers of both parties do their jobs.” Among “known issues,” the report complained that ERIC’s work “results in significant swelling of voter rolls.” CEIR and ERIC also share the same founder, former Justice Department attorney and voting rights activist David Becker, who the report claims “has behaved as a partisan-progressive.”
Providing information on how to vote for eligible-but-unregistered residents helps increase participation in elections and is inherently beneficial for democracy. However, Verity Vote’s report baselessly characterized these efforts as a “threat to election integrity.” The information shared between the two organizations does not include data that could be used to predict potential party affiliation, and the internal emails reported by Verity Vote clearly state that the member states themselves clean the lists of identifying information before CEIR completes a randomization process.
Right-wing media have conveniently ignored these facts and instead consistently driven the narrative that ERIC’s voter registration efforts and connection to CEIR serve as evidence of partisanship:
- The Federalist has run a relentless campaign against ERIC since August 2022, attacking the group in at least 18 articles. The publication often refers to the center as a “left-wing group” run by “Democratic operatives” and claims that it “inflates state’s voter rolls instead of cleaning them.” (Ironically, a December 2021 article on The Federalist’s website correctly describes ERIC as a group “administered by state election officials – it’s not a private entity, nor one sitting under an entity linked to a partisan partner.”)
- In February 2022, The Gateway Pundit celebrated Trump-endorsed Arizona secretary of state candidate and state Rep. Mark Finchem calling for Arizona to pull out of the group, claiming that “Americans have had enough of far-left cheating in elections. Ending a state’s relationship with ERIC is a step in the right direction.”
- The Gateway Pundit reported in June 2022 that Finchem announced in a debate that “Arizona will join Louisiana in ending the State’s participation in the corrupt ERIC voter roll system when he has the rulemaking authority of the Secretary of State.” The publication also congratulated itself for having “reported extensively on the ERIC system that is used nationwide, running a left-wing voter registration drive disguised as voter roll clean-up.”
- Erick Kaardal, special counsel for the Thomas More Society, appeared on One America News last August and claimed that member states provide “cell phone numbers, they put in email addresses, all that, and then they ship them to the Democratic and secretary of state or the Democratic clerks to get out the vote in the urban cities, particularly in the swing states. And so it’s all a cover for a Democratic operation. And this was a huge discovery in the last few days pointing out why they went to all this trouble of creating CEIR next to ERIC. And so it’s all about harvesting the data, putting it together, giving it back to the states. … So it’s all right there. That’s how they cheated. And the Big Lie was that ERIC was a nonpartisan group.”
- The American Conservative published an article in December 2022 titled “'Dark Money' Backing the Latest 'Zuck Bucks' Push,” which claimed that “ERIC ostensibly helps states clean up their voter rolls, but a peek under the hood reveals that it shares sensitive data on millions of voters with the partisan election ‘reform’ group Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR).” The piece concluded: “This is the professional Left in action. They won’t stop until America’s elections are totally unrecognizable—or conservatives wise up.”
- This January, OAN host Kara McKinney claimed that helping eligible residents to register is a partisan effort, saying, “The more low-info voters are activated, the better Democrats tend to do because they’re seen as the party of free stuff. Who could beat that? Or what about that report we covered last year from independent research group Verity Vote, which shows that a voter roll management system used in 31 states is really a cover for Democrat operatives to be in charge of voter rolls. The system in question, dubbed the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC, was launched in 2012.” McKinney then claimed that ERIC is also “facing scrutiny” for its ties to CEIR, “one of two leftist groups that was lavished with $419 million Zuck bucks” during the 2020 election.
- Victoria Marshall, a staff writer for The Federalist, similarly told OAN’s Addison Smith in March that providing information on how to register to vote is a partisan activity, claiming that “CEIR develops that voter data and then sends it to ERIC, and then the states will reach out to those voters or residents to register them to vote, and then you boost the voter rolls and you boost Democratic Party voter turnout.
Right-wing media claim Zuckerberg’s donations to CEIR means he has influence over ERIC
CEIR accepted large donations from Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan totalling nearly $70 million, which were distributed to states in need of funding for election administration efforts in 2020. The commissioner of the Election Assistance Commission testified before Congress in 2021 that Zuckerberg’s donations went to “the basics,” such as personal protective gear and sanitation. As reported by NPR, “Republicans have falsely seized on Zuckerberg's donations as a sign that the tech executive interfered in the voting process in 2020 to advantage Democrats, although there is no evidence that is the case.”
Right-wing media, however, have used Zuckerberg’s donations to spin a theory that he has influence over state voter rolls through ERIC and CEIR:
- In December 2022, The American Conservative accused ERIC of “leaking voters' data,” claiming that it has a “practice of sharing voter registration data acquired through these agreements with the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), infamous for distributing $70 million from Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 to pump up Democratic turnout in that year’s election.”
- OAN’s Neil McCabe spoke to Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd in March 2023 about the decision to withdraw from ERIC, asking, “There's a member of the ERIC board who’s associated with the efforts of Mark Zuckerberg to influence elections. And are you concerned about that gentleman, and also access of third parties into ERIC?” Byrd parroted right-wing talking points, responding that “we were concerned with some of the partisan nature and that it was being used not for the — its intent, which was for states to have a clearinghouse of voter information, and that that information may have been leaked to third parties, which were then using it for partisan activities.”
- In one of The Federalist’s many articles attacking ERIC, the publication baselessly claimed on March 20, 2023, that “given ERIC’s partisan origins and alliance with the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR) — one of two groups that funneled $419 million in grants from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to mostly-blue areas of swing states during the 2020 election — it’s likely ERIC targets Democrat-leaning residents to register.”
- In a recent Twitter thread attacking ERIC, Newsmax correspondent Emerald Robinson tweeted on March 23 that “several states have admitted that the ERIC system was used to illegally send voter information to third-parties. Like Zuckerberg’s vote-rigging operation.”
Right-wing media insist that David Becker and Pew Charitable Trusts created ERIC for partisan reasons
ERIC was created by a bipartisan group of chief election officials with funding from The Pew Charitable Trusts, a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and policy organization. David Becker helped found the center during his time at Pew. He is currently the executive director of CEIR, but announced in March that he would step down as a non-voting member of ERIC’s board after facing misinformation and attacks from election deniers.
Despite Pew’s nonpartisan approach and Becker’s “even-handed” reputation, right-wing media have launched a smear campaign against them to discredit ERIC:
- The Epoch Times referred to ERIC in February 2022 as a “Democrat-dominated data service” and claimed that it “was created in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts, a left-wing philanthropic organization.”
- Another article from The Federalist in September 2022 described Becker as “a key operative in the Zuckerberg-funded scheme to take over government election offices during the 2020 election” and “a far-left activist with an extensive history of attacking conservatives.” The piece claimed, “Simply put, Becker and his operatives have taken over voter roll maintenance, voter registration and outreach, election administration (including the counting and curing of ballots), and now official elections communications — while being irreversibly compromised as Democrat activists.”
- On March 1, OAN host Addison Smith cited The Federalist to claim that Becker “has a history of working as a lobbyist for the George Soros-funded advocacy group People for the American Way, so called,” and was also “a Justice Department attorney that allegedly had a vendetta against conservatives — surprise, surprise.” Smith also claimed that CEIR was “one of the groups that funneled $419 million in grant money from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to fund the private takeover of government election offices in 2020 – Zucker bucks.”
- In a March 2023 article claiming that GOP-led states are leaving ERIC due to its “left-wing election agenda,” The Washington Times stated that “one recurring complaint of the withdrawing states was the role of David Becker, who helped found ERIC when he worked at the Pew Charitable Trusts and served as a nonvoting ex officio member of the board until he withdrew last week.”
Right-wing media claim that ERIC is Soros-funded
ERIC was founded with seed money from The Pew Charitable Trusts, but the group is now funded through fees from member states — “a one-time fee of $25,000” from new members and “annual dues that are partly based on the citizen voting age population in each state,” according to The New York Times. George Soros, who is frequently targeted by right-wing figures with antisemitic conspiracy theories, has separately donated money to Pew, but there is no indication that his donations were used to create ERIC.
Despite the fact that ERIC is kept running by member states, right-wing media insist that it is a Soros-funded operation:
- Failed Nevada Secretary of State candidate Jim Marchant appeared on Steve Bannon’s War Room program last July to spew election conspiracy theories. He told Bannon, “We’re going to get rid of the Soros-backed ERIC – Electronic Registration Information Center – in our state, at least, and our coalition members are going to do the same.”
- The American Conservative wrote last October about ERIC as “the Left's Taxpayer-Funded Voter Registration Machine,” claiming that “it’s no secret that ERIC was ‘initiated as a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts,’ as one liberal group notes. Less well known are the group’s ties to partisan operative David Becker and billionaire George Soros.”
- In March, The Gateway Pundit’s Jim Hoft told Bannon on War Room that “one of the subgroups of Pew started ERIC, was funded by some Soros dollars. The media, of course, spins this now, but today it’s in 31 states.”
- Missouri Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft claimed on the March 10, 2023, edition of The Charlie Kirk Show that ERIC “was started by the Pew foundation. I believe there was money from Soros foundation that came into it.” He later referred to David Becker as a “hyper-partisan lefty.” Host Charlie Kirk then claimed that “many of these states don’t clean up their voter rolls and somehow they need this kind of coalition of many states participating? I don’t quite understand their goal here — it feels very sinister or that there might be another agenda beneath the surface here.”
- The Gateway Pundit similarly claimed in March that “in 2011 George Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society provided seed funding to Pew Charitable Trusts for the ‘voter registration modernization initiative’ that ultimately became ERIC.
- In April, Judicial Watch published a flawed report targeting ERIC that “makes claims largely based on supposition, inaccuracies and personal attacks,” as one voting rights lawyer told The Guardian, and paints ERIC as a Soros initiative, claiming that it “was founded by left-leaning attorney David Becker with $157,000 in grants from the George Soros-funded Pew Charitable Trusts.”