When Virginia’s Board of Elections said it would remove tens of thousands of names from its voter rolls this year, voting-rights advocates cried foul, and went to court. But while Republicans criticized Democrats for opening elections to fraud, and Democrats complained Republicans were disenfranchising thousands of voters, the spat brought up a very real concern states across the nation face: Voter rolls are messy, and someone has to clean them up. People move. People die. People get married and re-register under new names. Election administrators across the country face the tightrope of making sure their voter rolls are accurate while avoiding erasing a valid record. Seven states believe they have the answer: The Electronic Registration Information Center, or ERIC. Developed by the Pew Charitable Trusts and IBM, ERIC uses several databases to compare voters across state lines. The system compares voter list data with Department of Motor Vehicle records, Social Security Administration records, the Postal Service’s national change of address registry and other databases to match voters across state lines; if the system concludes with a high degree of confidence that a John Doe on one state’s voter roll is the same John Doe in another state, the record is flagged. “You match enough of [the data points] across records that you have a lot of confidence ,” said David Becker, Pew’s director of election initiatives. “It’s impossible for [states], based only on a name and birth date, to keep their lists up to date and identify when someone has died, for example.”
Pew and IBM developed the program, but the states themselves run it. So far, seven states — Washington, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, Virginia, Maryland and Delaware — belong to the consortium. And because states share their data, the more states that join, the stronger the system becomes.
The early results have been encouraging. Shane Hamlin, the chairman of the ERIC board and the deputy director of elections in Washington state, said his state has screened for deceased voters through Social Security Administration lists for years; on its first pass, ERIC found 25 percent more dead voters still on the rolls than has the old system.