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COMMENTARY: Missouri succumbs to conspiracy theories by leaving group that fights voter fraud

by The Kansas City Star (TNS) | March 16, 2023 at 3:00 a.m.

Missouri has withdrawn from a national coalition of states focused on election integrity and has no plan to replace its services. Talk about bad timing. A contentious presidential election year is right around the corner. Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft must waste no time figuring out how Missouri will ensure that its voter registration rolls are clean.

The Electronic Registration Information Center, ERIC, was created a decade ago to help states improve the accuracy of their voter rolls by searching for people who move or die.

When people move from Missouri to Indiana, for example, they might not think to call Missouri election officials on their way out. They then sign up to vote in the Hoosier State and wind up registered in two states because Missouri doesn't know to remove them. Those voters, if they were inclined to break the law, could vote in both states.

Likewise, when someone dies, the family doesn't always think to notify election officials. A deceased Missourian could linger on the voter rolls for years. Conceivably, a family member could request an absentee ballot in that person's name and vote twice.

A widely circulated 2012 report spelled out the magnitude of the challenge. It showed 1 in 8 voter registrations in the United States were no longer valid or were significantly inaccurate. Almost 2 million dead people were registered to vote, and almost 3 million people had registered in two states.

Fortunately, most people have integrity and follow the rules. Actual incidents of documented individual electoral fraud are vanishingly few. Nevertheless, it behooves states to maintain the highest standards and confidence in the electoral system by cleansing the voter rolls periodically.

So a group of states formed ERIC. Every couple of months, member states submit voter registration and driver's license data to ERIC. Computers search the data for irregularities and inaccuracies across states. When they find them, ERIC lets the states know so they can update their voter rolls or investigate further. Without a multistate clearinghouse, such cross-checking would be impossible.

ERIC's membership grew to more than 30 states, including Missouri but not Kansas. Though the founding members leaned Democratic, states from across the political spectrum have joined.

Many on the far right have succumbed to conspiracy theories that suggest ERIC is working to help Democrats. Donald Trump stokes those fears and has urged Republican states to abandon the organization.

Along with Missouri, Florida, West Virginia, Louisiana and Alabama all quit recently. Missouri isn't exactly keeping stellar company when it comes to election integrity.

Republican election officials do raise some legitimate issues with the organization. ERIC's leadership leans left. It's less than transparent about how it protects the wealth of personal data it gathers. And its requirement that member states engage in specific voter registration efforts, while a laudable goal, goes beyond the primary task of verifying voter rolls.

But those Republican election officials should have worked harder to change those things within ERIC, not abandoned a valuable resource for election integrity. Alas, unless Ashcroft has a change of heart, that now seems impossible.

Ashcroft is in no hurry to come up with a better way to learn when someone registers in another state. Will he personally call his counterpart in each of the 49 other states before every election? Will the members of ERIC whom he has disrespected even take his call?

No. Errors will accumulate in Missouri's voter rolls once again.

That could prove catastrophic in 2024, when there will be high-stakes races for president, governor, members of Congress and more on the ballot. Partisan election observers will scrutinize Missouri's elections, and the presence of erroneous voter registration data will serve only to fuel ire, distrust and conspiracy theories.

Ashcroft, who is widely expected to run for governor next year, succumbed to his worst partisan instincts by pulling the state out of ERIC. The next time he claims to be a champion of election integrity, Missourians will know better.

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