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3 more GOP states announce they're leaving a key voting data partnership

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Three more states say they will stop using a computer tool that helps to keep voter lists accurate. Florida, Missouri and West Virginia are the latest to drop out. The system that helps to root out voter fraud has become a target for right-wing misinformation. So let's talk this through. We're in Studio 31 here in Washington, D.C. We've got our colleagues on the other side of the glass, and NPR's Miles Parks is in the room with us this morning. Miles, thanks for coming by early. I really appreciate it.

MILES PARKS, BYLINE: Hey, good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: So what is this system? I don't think I'd really heard of it.

PARKS: And most people probably haven't. It's called the Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC for short, which sounds really complicated.

INSKEEP: Hi, ERIC. OK, go on.

PARKS: Yeah, but it's pretty simple, right? So it's a partnership of more than 30 member states where they share all sorts of government data - election records, but then also things from the state DMV, death records - to try to keep their voter registration lists more up to date. Traditionally, it's given both political parties a little bit of what they want. For liberals, it helps register new voters when they move. For conservatives, it helps get dead voters off the voter lists.

I talked about it recently with Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, who is a Republican who was endorsed last year by former President Trump. And he told me it's one of the best tools states have to detect voter fraud.

FRANK LAROSE: The little secret is that 10 years ago, if somebody voted in Ohio and Florida and Arizona and Texas, you would have never known. There was no way to catch that. And so with ERIC, we can compare our voter rolls to those states.

INSKEEP: OK, I'm trying to think this through. This addresses voter fraud. Republicans worry about voter fraud. So why would Republican-aligned states - Florida, Missouri, West Virginia - pull out?

PARKS: So yesterday they all announced this, and they said it was because - there were a few different reasons - some data privacy concerns, some concerns that there were partisan influences on the organization. But as you mentioned, this is a thing that for the last 10 years, Republicans have loved. The Heritage Foundation, a prominent conservative think tank, has given points to states for joining it. And then last year, we saw far-right media start to target it. Blog posts, podcasts started coming out trying to link this organization to George Soros, who's kind of the centerpiece of a lot of far-right conspiracy theorizing.

INSKEEP: Sure.

PARKS: And it kind of caught fire. At the grassroots kind of conservative level, it became a very prominent storyline in election denier circles. Louisiana becomes the first state in the beginning of last year to pull out. Alabama follows suit earlier this year. And now we have three more conservative states following this wave.

INSKEEP: So if these states follow the dictation of the right-wing media, how are they going to keep their voter rolls up to date?

PARKS: That is the big question. I've talked to election officials and experts across the political spectrum and asked them straight away, can states do what they do with the ERIC data without ERIC? They say no. It's either impossible or would cost an exorbitant amount of money and time for a government to build. So almost certainly the states that have pulled out of ERIC over time will just have less accurate voter lists.

INSKEEP: So this is just the way that you would find out if somebody has moved from one state to another - you need to communicate with the other state. So what happens to ERIC now?

PARKS: This is clearly a major inflection point. There are a number of other conservative member states. We're going to see what happens here, whether it continues to evolve into what is essentially a political football. I will note yesterday former President Trump, in a social media post, mentioned this once-obscure voter list maintenance tool by name, which is probably not a good sign for the member states who are just crossing their fingers and hoping this all passes over.

INSKEEP: NPR's Miles Parks, thanks so much.

PARKS: Thanks, Steve. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Miles Parks is a reporter on NPR's Washington Desk. He covers voting and elections, and also reports on breaking news.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.