Earlier this month, the State of Florida withdrew from a nationwide system used to help maintain voter rolls and detect voter fraud. This decision alarmed many of us in Florida who continue to fight for free and fair elections.
The Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) allows election officials to compare their voter rolls with the voter rolls of other states and also access databases for voter and motor vehicle registrations, U.S. Postal Service addresses, and Social Security death records.
It was only a few months ago that Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd credited ERIC with helping to identify voters who cast a ballot in more than one state. Three residents of The Villages were arrested for voting more than once in the 2020 presidential election, thanks to ERIC.
And now Florida is out and won’t share and receive information from other states. There’s no way to be sure what this will mean, but it’s hard to believe it will lead to anything good happening. Numerous people and organizations are already trying to discredit elections. The only way to keep faith in elections and democracy as a whole is to have the facts, and Florida just cut itself off from something that helped ensure our elections are legitimate and secure.
Equally worrisome is why Florida is no longer part of ERIC. Byrd’s office said it was because ERIC refused to reform itself to secure data and eliminate “partisan tendencies.” And withdrawing will ensure the data privacy of Floridians.
But what “partisan tendencies” were there? How was data privacy threatened? A quick search online suggests that Florida withdrew from ERIC due to imagined conspiracy theories more than anything real and tangible.
Liberal activists do not fund ERIC. It gets funding from the states that are members. It does not share data with liberal advocacy groups, only with the states that are members. But you wouldn’t know that if you go to some places on the internet.
“ERIC is never connected to any state’s voter registration system,” said ERIC executive director Shane Hamlin. “Members retain complete control over their voter rolls, and they use the reports we provide in ways that comply with federal and state laws.”
Back in 2019, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said joining ERIC was the right thing to do. It has also been praised by election supervisors in Florida, both Republican and Democrat. But in the end, none of that mattered; Florida is out, with more states likely to follow.
Going forward, this will make Florida elections less secure. The chance of voter fraud will go up. Confidence that elections are free and fair will decrease.
This didn’t have to happen, but state officials are paying more attention to online conspiracy theories than verifiable facts, and all citizens of Florida, conservative, liberal, and everywhere in between, will pay the price.
We can only hope that at some point in the future, sanity will return.
Juanica Fernandes is the executive director of State Voices Florida, a partner-focused civic engagement organization whose mission is to engage Florida’s historically underrepresented communities in the democratic process.