A growing number of states have withdrawn their membership from the Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, which is used by state governments for voter list maintenance. Alabama is one of these states, and its Secretary of State Wes Allen is helping lead the way on election integrity nationwide.

ERIC is a nonprofit organization comprised of election officials from member states whose stated mission is to help states maintain accurate voter rolls, removing ineligible voters through shared data between member states. The shared data is supposed to help states identify whether citizens have died while out of state or if they have moved and registered to vote in other states.

Although this may sound helpful at first glance, former participants became attuned to numerous concerns, such as the organizations’ heavy focus on using personal data for get-out-the-vote activities. Problematically, ERIC receives its funding and information from states and the U.S. Election Assistance Commission has made clear that get-out-the-vote activities are not a role that should be funded or performed by the government.

Another issue is the way ERIC shares individuals’ personal identifying information. ERIC’s website states that the organization is not an agent of the government, and as discussed above, ERIC uses the data it receives, at least in part, for activities that are not a government function. Nevertheless, they receive their data from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles, which raises serious questions about their compliance with the Drivers Privacy Protection Act, which forbids sharing individuals’ motor vehicle records. Not only is it questionable that states share data with ERIC under these circumstances, but it is even more concerning that ERIC then shares the data with unidentified third parties that can’t be audited. The latter is among Secretary Allen’s top concerns with the organization.

Wes Allen was elected as Alabama’s 54th Secretary of State in 2022 and is supremely qualified to identify election best practices thanks to his extensive experience as a judge of elections that has prepared him to decisively address relevant election-related issues in Alabama. As chief of elections, Secretary Allen oversaw all the important aspects of running an election including the appointment and training of poll workers, the certification of tabulators, proofing of ballots, the opening and closing of polls, and the tabulation of results.

With this unique breadth of experience in mind, Secretary Allen recognizes that voter list maintenance is the foundation of election integrity, which is why before he was elected, he promised he would withdraw Alabama from ERIC. Once elected, he lived up to that promise and made withdrawing from ERIC his first official act in office.

This move is highly beneficial, but pulling out of ERIC does mean that states must reevaluate how they will perform voter list maintenance going forward. In the case of Alabama, Secretary Allen has helped the state establish their own database and negotiate their own way of sharing data between states, which prevents personal data from being shared with unidentified third parties and non-government entities. Alabama’s system is called the Alabama Voter Integrity Database (AVID) and, soon after it was implemented, Alabama was able to identify over 30,000 registered voters that had moved out of state.

Mainstream news outlets tend to question states’ ability to address voter list maintenance without ERIC, but the reality is that there is nowhere but up for many of the states maintaining membership with ERIC. For example, Georgia has stayed with ERIC and has potentially millions of errors in their voter rolls, including missing addresses, missing names, incorrect dates of birth, and thousands of registered voters with active status and a date of last contact of over 10 years. Pennsylvania is also a member of ERIC and their voter rolls include registrants registered at dorm rooms at Pennsylvania State that no longer have students living in them.

In the era of dropboxes, month long early voting, satellite voting centers, lack of meaningful observation, and mass mail-in ballots, the overproduction of unaccountable ballots is of concern to election integrity advocates. Voter list maintenance is a way of mitigating that issue at its root, and state secretaries like Wes Allen thankfully set an example for best practices, thoughtfully balancing a proactive approach to cleaning voter rolls and maintaining the privacy rights of citizens.