The Left's Taxpayer-Funded Voter Registration Machine
The Electronic Registration Information Center is one of the most powerful tools for mass voter registration and turnout in the country.
Perhaps the greatest trick the left ever pulled was convincing conservatives there was ever anything nonpartisan about conducting elections.
In the battle over election integrity, one of the least-discussed but increasingly important groups is the little-known Electronic Registration Information Center—better known as “ERIC.” ERIC is a private 501(c)(3) organization, not a government agency, yet it has incredible access to sensitive information on tens of millions of voters across 30 states and the District of Columbia.
ERIC matches death information published by the Social Security Administration to an individual voter’s full name, date of birth, address, phone number, driver’s license number, and partial Social Security Number provided by state departments of motor vehicles (DMVs) to form a picture of where a voter has lived and registered to vote.
It’s unknown exactly how many people are in ERIC’s system, but together those 30 states represent nearly 204 million people—61 percent of the country’s total population.
That information is key to ERIC’s primary purpose: helping member states audit and clean up their voter rolls by identifying when voters move or die. That’s an essential element in improving election integrity.
What ERIC doesn’t advertise is its place as one of the most powerful tools for mass voter registration and turnout in the country. ERIC states are required to target “eligible but unregistered” voters to maintain their taxpayer-funded membership. These campaigns are sometimes paid for by the left-wing Pew Charitable Trusts, a mega-donor to leftist groups that incubated ERIC in 2012.
That isn’t an image the group likes to cultivate, of course. Its most recent IRS disclosure in 2020, for instance, reports that ERIC works with member states to “educate eligible citizens on how to register to vote.” (The IRS allows 501(c)(3) nonprofits to engage in nonpartisan voter education.) But an ERIC-friendly question and answer document published by the Advancement Project, an anti-voter ID advocacy group, puts it very differently:
ERIC states are also required to contact eligible, but unregistered people and “educate them on the most efficient means to register to vote.” Registering the unregistered is mandatory. Indeed, ERIC states are required to initiate contact with at least 95 percent of people identified by ERIC who are eligible or potentially eligible to vote [emphasis added]. Failure to comply results in automatic removal [original emphasis] of the state from ERIC membership.
It's unclear what “potentially eligible to vote”—as opposed to merely “eligible to vote”—means. The document also asks, “Does the program [ERIC] result in the reduction of unlawful double voting?” The answer given: “ERIC’s purpose is not to reduce the number of alleged double voters.”
Perhaps that’s a poorly written sentence which unintentionally suggests ERIC boosts double voting when it probably meant to state that double voting reduction falls outside of ERIC’s main purpose. Regardless, isn’t catching voters who vote twice just as important as reporting those who’ve moved or died? And shouldn’t Americans be concerned that a private organization is ordering state governments to expand their voter base?
Joining ERIC is cheap on paper—annual dues range from $16,000 to $74,000—but ERIC-mandated registration drives are far more expensive. Virginia’s Department of Elections estimates that ERIC membership and its “associated mailing costs,” a euphemism for mandatory registration drives, average $300,000 per year, just $39,000 of which accounts for dues.
States unable to afford these pricey campaigns were encouraged to turn to Pew Charitable Trusts, which offered grants to help all 50 states “in making the initial outreach to eligible citizens who are not registered to vote”—provided they join ERIC by a deadline set by the foundation. Pew reports offering these grants in 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017 and continued to subsidize ERIC itself as late as 2019.
In exchange for this money Pew demanded information on: Total voting eligible population; Population transfers with other ERIC states; “Commitment to partnering on research regarding the most effective contact and outreach strategies”; “Percentage of mailing costs that the state is willing to contribute”; and, “Availability of online voter registration currently or in the near future.” Pew was in the driver’s seat for determining which states got the money. Lawmakers ought to ask the obvious question: Is that an appropriate project for a tax-exempt private foundation?
ERIC’s Origins and David Becker
More red flags appear the deeper we dig. It’s no secret that ERIC was “initiated as a project of the Pew Charitable Trusts,” as one liberal group notes. Less well known are the group’s ties to partisan operative David Becker and billionaire George Soros.
Becker is a former Justice Department trial attorney who earned a reputation as a “hardcore leftist” who “couldn’t stand conservatives,” as the head of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights division put it. In 2005, Becker joined the “progressive advocacy” group People for the American Way (PFAW) as a lobbyist specializing in elections—though the group is curiously absent from his LinkedIn resumé. PFAW supports the usual raft of far-left election “reforms,” including the Democrats’ For the People Act (H.R. 1).
When Becker joined the Pew Center on the States in 2008 as director of election initiatives he focused on implementing new voter registration “reforms” in the states. (Notably, he outright dismisses the possibility of voter fraud arising from mass registration.) Under his leadership, ERIC was born four years later.
Funding for the project appears to have originated with Soros’s Foundation to Promote Open Society, which funneled two grants to Pew in 2011 totaling $725,000. The first was “to support the Pew Center on the States’ voter registration modernization initiative,” while the second funded “renewed project support to the Pew Charitable Trusts’ Elections Initiatives to modernize voter registration systems and to provide new project support to elections initiatives to expand the scope and scale of the voter information project” (emphasis added).
Independent journalists have also uncovered references to Pew’s voter registration activities in a leaked copy of the Open Society Foundations’ 2011–12 budget. That document lists Pew Center on the States as a “lead grantee” alongside the Brennan Center and Advancement Project, which oppose voter ID laws and support the Left’s array of election “reforms” including Election Day registration.
Interestingly, Becker (then representing Pew) used the commendation of another Soros-funded group, the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT), in his 2013 testimony urging New Mexico to join ERIC. Besides Soros, CDT is funded by the Ford and MacArthur Foundations to push net neutrality and similar regulations.
An archived copy of ERIC’s website from late 2019 shows another Center for Democracy and Technology senior staffer on the former’s advisory board, Joseph Lorenzo Hall, who’s since been scrubbed from the site. ERIC board member Stephen Trout, a former Oregon elections director, now runs government partnerships for CDT’s Voting Works, which advises states on implementing voter verification and vote-by-mail systems.
Becker led ERIC until 2016, when he left to start a new “reform” group, the Center for the Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), though he remains on ERIC’s board. Although it claims to be nonpartisan, CEIR is anything but. In October 2021, Becker represented CEIR in his testimony before Congress where he dismissed election integrity concerns as “a scam to keep them [Republican voters] angry, divided, and donating” that benefits Russia, China, and other hostile governments trying “to delegitimize democracy.” He added:
They have been fed a constant diet of lies telling them that millions of their fellow citizens, half of them members of their own party, engaged in a massive conspiracy to deliver the election to the current president, and that none of the millions of conspirators are talking. This sickness is leading to laws in the states that make elections less secure, leading to threats against public servants who run elections.
In 2020, CEIR received nearly $70 million from Mark Zuckerberg to fund Covid-19 “relief grants,” money it paid out to secretaries of state in key battleground states for “urgent voter education assistance.”
CEIR’s true goal was promoting mail-in ballots, early voting, and government-run registration campaigns ahead of the 2020 election. In Maryland, CEIR’s “Zuck bucks” accounted for roughly one-third of the state’s $2 million campaign to register and turn out likely Democratic voters in Baltimore and the counties bordering Washington, D.C.
In Michigan, 99 percent of CEIR’s $12 million grant to a virtually inactive local nonprofit ended up in the coffers of two Democratic consulting firms, which conducted “nonpartisan voter education” using targeted text messages and ads urging Michiganders to vote. It’s possible that these firms targeted likely Democratic voters. (We’ve also traced six-figure grants to CEIR from Pierre Omidyar’s Democracy Fund, which heavily funds vote-by-mail advocacy groups, using the pass-through nonprofits in Arabella Advisors’ “dark money” empire.)
Heather Honey, founder of the watchdog group Verity Vote, has discovered that ERIC maintains a data-sharing agreement with CEIR, which CEIR allegedly uses to generate lists of eligible voters to target. Coupled with evidence that ERIC membership agreement “prevents member states from disclosing any information associated with ERIC” or related voter registration activities, Honey asserts there’s a “veil of secrecy around [its] operations.” If true, that would violate the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires states make these activities transparent.
CEIR’s Zuck bucks strategy mirrored that of another Zuckerberg donee in 2020: the Center for Tech and Civic Life (CTCL), another “good government” group, which dumped roughly $350 million into thousands of local elections offices in a thinly veiled effort to privatize the election in these key jurisdictions. CTCL’s Zuck bucks favored Democratic vote-rich cities in battleground states and heavily boosted Biden turnout
Take Wisconsin, the first state targeted by Zuck bucks, where 84 percent of the $10.1 million CTCL paid out went to the state’s five biggest cities, all of which broke for Biden. Per capita, CTCL grants in Biden counties averaged $3.75 per person and just $0.55 in Trump counties. Those five cities used CTCL grants to fuel the so-called Wisconsin Safe Voting Plan, which revolved around drop boxes, mail-in ballots and processing equipment, and last-minute changes to early voting laws. In all likelihood, without Zuck bucks the scheme would have proven impossible to implement.
In July 2022, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled drop boxes unconstitutional and 24 states have since banned or restricted Zuck bucks in future elections. Six Democratic governors have vetoed such measures. Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D.) vetoed them twice. So it ought to concern conservatives that an ERIC representative appeared in at least one CTCL presentation for election officials on “maintaining voter lists” to discuss her organization’s “plans to expand the ‘eligible but unregistered’ report.” Add to that CEIR’s IRS disclosures between 2017 and 2020, which report engaging in “limited direct lobbying of state government officials to encourage . . . membership in ERIC.”
What do partisan get-out-the-vote groups like CEIR and CTCL see in ERIC?
Louisiana is certainly concerned. In January, Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced that the Bayou State will suspend participation in ERIC “effective immediately” after it became clear that the organization is about much more than purging voter rolls. Louisiana joined the compact in 2014, making it one of the first states to join and the only state to leave.
When Louisiana joined ERIC under my predecessor, we did so under the impression that it would enhance the accuracy of our voter rolls and strengthen Louisiana’s election integrity. After reading about these allegations and speaking with election attorneys and experts, I have determined that it may no longer be in Louisiana’s best interests to participate in this organization. It is vital that any legitimate allegation of voter fraud or possible misuse of our voters’ personal information is investigated. My job is to ensure that the data voters entrust to my office is protected. I look forward to ERIC’s swift response to these allegations.
Activists Pile On
For a nonpartisan, apolitical group, ERIC is beloved of the left.
In Massachusetts, for example, dozens of leftist groups—including the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood, Common Cause, and the local SEIU—urged the state to join ERIC last year as part of legislation that would also implement the left’s favorite election “reforms”: automatic and same-day voter registration, restoration of felon voting rights, and permanent vote by mail. Massachusetts joined the compact in June.
One wonders why membership in ERIC would be relevant to this total transformation of the commonwealth’s elections.
The liberal League of Women Voters’ own “reforms” similarly list ERIC membership alongside automatic voter registration. Mainers for Modern Elections (a project of the League of Women Voters) wants ERIC membership as part of its “reforms,” which further list drop boxes for mail-in ballots, ballot curing, and expanded early voting. Its coalition—which is entirely untainted by conservatives—includes Arabella’s Center for Secure and Modern Elections, Common Cause, Planned Parenthood, and Represent.US.
The LGBT-centered Movement Advancement Project (not to be confused with the similarly named Advancement Project mentioned earlier) includes ERIC membership as a criterion in its “democracy tally,” a ratings system for how “democratic” a given state is. Alabama, for instance, ranked as “low” (5.75 out of 32.5 points) in 2021 for its lack of vote-by-mail options, insufficient “representation and participation” among (presumably) non-white and female voters, and failure to join the anti–Electoral College group National Popular Vote.
The far-left Center for Popular Democracy, famous for harassing Republican politicians, considers ERIC membership key to universal voter registration—alongside automatic and same-day registration, pre-registration of 16-year-olds, and abolition of voter ID laws.
Then there’s the board, which is largely composed of state elections directors, some of whom have concerning ties to the professional left.
John Lindback, executive director of ERIC from 2014 to 2017, is a former Oregon elections director and former chief of staff for Alaska Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer (D). He now advises the Center for Secure and Modern Elections, a creature of Arabella Advisors’ $1.7 billion “dark money” network. The center helped CTCL target local elections offices for Zuck bucks in exchange for information on their budgets, voter registration lists, and other official forms, according to ongoing investigation by Louisiana Attorney General Jeff Landry.
Edgardo Cortes, then Virginia’s commissioner of elections under Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), chaired ERIC’s board. He is now an advisor to the election security team for the left-wing Brennan Center, which supports a massive expansion to vote-by-mail systems. In June, he testified before Congress on the “growing threat [of] disinformation” from conservatives backing the “Big Lie,” citing “activists” aligned with MyPillow founder Mike Lindell and “anti-voter legislation” passed in “many” (read: Republican) states.
Peggy Reeves, then election director for Connecticut, is a Democrat who served in the state legislature from 2009 to 2011. Wayne Thorley is secretary of state for Nevada. In 2020, he oversaw the state’s transition to an all-mail election under legislation passed by the Democratic legislature and governor.
Who Registers and Why?
ERIC’s activities raise serious concerns about who, if anyone, should be registering voters—particularly since the left and the Democratic Party have gone in for government-run voter registration drives.
Last March, President Biden ordered federal agencies to begin distributing registration and vote-by-mail applications “in the course of regular services” and providing “voting access and education” to individuals in federal prisons. It’s the culmination of a yearslong pressure campaign by professional activists led by Demos, the think tank of Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and the socialist left, which wants to abolish the Electoral College and grant statehood to Washington, D.C. Make no mistake—taxpayer-funded voter registration is a sea change in the way Americans run elections. In practice, it means receiving a voter registration or mail-in ballot application when seniors file for Social Security benefits, Native Americans seek treatment from Indian Health Services, or students apply for federal college loans.
Few conservatives are aware of the left’s utter fixation on the power of voter registration. I’ve calculated that liberal foundations like Ford and pass-throughs like Tides have pumped $461 million into registration nonprofits over the past decade, largely through 501(c)(3) nonprofits.
Why? It’s an article of faith among leftists that bigger turnout yields Democratic victories. Groups such as America Votes, State Voices, and Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight Action excel at microtargeting Democratic voters and getting them to the polls—but that only (legally) works if they’re registered. Moreover, there are huge tax benefits to using (c)(3)s to register new voters instead of party committees, as the right has traditionally done. As one secret memo published by the Democratic turnout group Mind the Gap observes:
The most effective tactic in a Presidential year by a wide margin is nonpartisan voter registration focused on underrepresented groups in our electoral process. Provided that such efforts are well-designed and executed, on a pre-tax basis they are 2 to 5 times more cost-effective at netting additional Democratic votes than the tactics that campaigns will invest in (chiefly, broadcast media and digital buys).
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Don’t be fooled: These left-wing funders never accidentally fund groups not aligned with their broader get-out-the-vote agenda. Whether it’s a partisan get-out-the-vote group or a “good government” nonprofit, the foundation’s end goal is the same. Yet even with this vast wealth, clever activists know they can’t rely on foundation money forever. Groups like ERIC represent the transition from private- to government-funded registration campaigns, the next stage in the left’s election plans.
But even government registration is imperfect—after all, some potential voters will be missed and others may simply decline to register. The ultimate solution is to automatically register everyone. In effect, “citizen” would become synonymous with “registered voter.” That may sound crazy, but it’s the position of Biden’s Democratic Party, which lists automatic voter registration in its dream elections bill, the For the People Act (H.R. 1). Every election “reform” group supports automatic voter registration for this same reason.
The real question is what conservatives are willing to do about it. They should start by scrutinizing ERIC. They may not like what they find.