Secretary of State-elect Wes Allen withdrawing Alabama from multi-state voter information center

By Mike Cason 

Rep. Wes Allen of Troy has announced plans to run for Alabama Secretary of State.

Secretary of State-elect Wes Allen said he is following through on a campaign promise to withdraw Alabama from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a decision that puts him at odds with outgoing Secretary of State John Merrill, who said the system has helped identify voter fraud.

ERIC collects registered voter records and drivers license records from its member states and cross-checks that with data from other member states and other databases to identify voters who have moved, died, or registered to vote in multiple places.

Allen said he heard repeatedly while campaigning across the state during the last 18 months that people did not want their personal information sent to an out-of-state group.

“I made a promise that I would withdraw Alabama from ERIC and I am keeping that promise,” Allen said in a press release. “I have informed them, via certified letter, that upon my inauguration on January 16, 2023, Alabama will immediately and permanently cease to transmit any information regarding any citizen in the State of Alabama to their organization and that we will no longer participate in any aspect of the ERIC program.”

ERIC is owned and operated by the 33 states that are members, according to the organization’s website. Alabama pays about $25,000 a year for its membership.

ERIC was started in 2012 by seven states: Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Nevada, Utah, Virginia, and Washington. Besides Alabama, other southern states that now participate include Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina. Louisiana suspended its participation earlier this year.

ERIC Executive Director Hamlin said in an email today that no other state has notified ERIC about an intention to withdraw. Hamlin also forwarded a link to the frequently asked questions section on its website that explains how the organization collects and uses data to compile reports it sends to the member states.

Merrill supported Alabama’s participation in ERIC and has disputed some of Allen’s previous statements about the program, including that it was funded by billionaire George Soros, a supporter of Democratic causes. Allen claimed earlier this year that ERIC “was formed with a grant provided by the George Soros-funded Open Society and was originally managed by David Becker, a well-known Democrat election lawyer who became the architect of ERIC after serving in the Justice Department during the Obama Administration.”

In a statement responding to Allen’s press release today, Merrill reiterated his position that ERIC provides an important service.

“Alabama uses ERIC to preserve a clean and accurate voter list,” Merrill said “We have not experienced one negative issue because of our relationship with ERIC. In fact, ERIC identified 12 confirmed incidents of voter fraud during the 2020 election where citizens voted in both Alabama and another member state. These cases have been turned over to the Attorney General’s Office for investigation. Other member states are currently working with Alabama to identify other incidents of voter fraud. This would not have been possible without our partnership with ERIC.”

Allen, a Republican, captured 66 percent of the vote in last weeks’ election to defeat Democrat Pamela Laffitte and Libertarian Jason “Matt” Shelby. Merrill, who is also a Republican, is completing his second term in the office that oversees elections in Alabama.

Allen said today he is confident that the secretary of state’s office can help county boards of registrars maintain accurate voter rolls without participation in ERIC. Allen said that would include the use of change-of-address information from the United States Postal Service, drivers license records from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, and death records provided to counties by the Alabama Department of Public Health. Allen noted that the Legislature passed a bill last year that outlined new procedures for maintaining voter rolls, a law that takes effect in 2025. Merrill supported the legislation.

“I’m very confident we’re going to make sure that we maintain clean voter rolls and make sure our voter rolls are up to date,” Allen said. “We’re going to work hard each and every day to ensure that.”

Merrill questioned how Alabama can identify incidences like the voters who voted in two states without the services of ERIC.

Once in office, the plan for newly-elected Secretary of State Wes Allen is to set up a cooperative system within the state of Alabama. He intends to use the USPS Change of Address program to identify potential out-of-state voters. He also plans to work with other agencies, such as the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency’s driver’s license offices and the Alabama Department of Public Health’s Office of Vital Statistics, to maintain voter rolls. Those meetings with state government agencies cannot occur until he is in office. Alabama pays a fee of around $28,000 a year to be a member of ERIC. That fee goes towards the organization’s annual budget of $1,037,000. Allen said that payment would end with the state’s withdrawal from the system. (Photo: Facebook)

“Our office does not have direct access to other states’ voter databases or driver’s license records or access to the Social Security Administration Death Master Index,” Merrill said. “ERIC does. Finally, neither the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency nor our office have the ability to compare driver’s license records for our state with other states for the purpose of voter list maintenance. ERIC does. So, if Wes Allen plans to remove Alabama from its relationship with ERIC, how does he intend to maintain election security without access to the necessary data, legal authority, or capability to conduct proper voter list maintenance?”

ERIC provides its members four voter list maintenance reports: cross-state movers, or voters who have moved from one member state to another; in-state movers; voters with duplicate registrations in the same state; and voters who have died according to Social Security records.

Allen is a former probate judge in Pike County, where he oversaw elections, and just completed a four-year term in the Alabama House of Representatives. Allen noted that ERIC is not nationwide and some states are maintaining their voter rolls without being a member.

“We feel like we can do that as well,” Allen said.