Thursday, May 30, 2024

LaRose: Secretary of State Ardoin’s voter suppression actions speak for his silence

by BIZ Magazine

Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin is proud of the fact that Louisiana was the first state to withdraw from the Electronic Registration Information Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan data portal that helps states check the accuracy of their voter rolls. The Pelican State led the way in January 2022, as Ardoin reminded citizens last month when three other states made their exit from ERIC.

Seven states total have left ERIC, and North Carolina’s legislature will consider a bill to prevent it from joining.

“As I stated when Louisiana became the first state to leave ERIC, I have a responsibility to protect my constituents’ personal data, and being a part of ERIC was no longer in the best interest of our citizens,” Ardoin said in a March 6 statement. “I am pleased to see other states come to the same conclusion and join Louisiana in withdrawing, and I am confident that we will work together to advance election integrity in our respective states.”

Yet when pressed for details on how ERIC left Louisiana’s voter data vulnerable, the secretary of state has gone silent. His spokesman cited “confidentiality provisions” in Louisiana’s agreement with ERIC and declined to provide further comment.

But some of Ardoin’s counterparts in other states are talking about why they have severed ties with ERIC, States Newsroom’s Zachary Roth reports. Their comments offer insight into what looks increasingly like a conspiracy-fed, Republican-led effort to suppress voter enrollment.

Alabama was one of three states to part ways with ERIC last month. In comments to a conservative talk radio host, Secretary of State Wes Allen explained why he withdrew Alabama from the network the day after he took office in January.

“(ERIC) was a way to really identify who was not registered to vote,” Allen said, referring to the center’s requirement that member states reach out to eligible but unregistered voters and make an effort to get on the rolls. “And then, per the contract, the state would have to contact these voters and encourage them to get registered to vote.”  

Allen has also falsely described ERIC as a George Soros-backed effort, linking it to the liberal philanthropist often made a scapegoat by alt-right conspiracy theorists. ERIC was launched with the financial backing of the Pew Charitable Trusts, to which Soros has made donations for different projects. 

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (no relation) sent ERIC a warning letter last month saying his state would leave the group unless its board made several policy changes, including making it optional for states to contact unregistered voters.

In Missouri, the first reason Secretary of State John Ashcroft listed in a March 6 letter announcing he would sever ties with ERIC was that the center didn’t do enough to address voter fraud. His second reason was the voter outreach requirement. 

“ERIC focuses on adding names to voter rolls by requiring a solicitation to individuals who already had an opportunity to register to vote and made the conscious decision to not be registered,” Ashcroft wrote.

“I don’t think we should be harassing people,” he later told a reporter.

Like Ardoin, Florida Secretary of State Cord Byrd cited data security concerns for pulling his state from ERIC. 

Just ahead of last month’s departures, ERIC Executive Director Shane Hamlin penned an open letter to address what he called “recent misinformation spreading about ERIC.”

Hamlin stressed that the center is not connected to state voter registration systems, and that member states retain complete control over their voter rolls. Its verification methods adhere to state and federal law, and its data is safely handled following widely accepted security protocols, he said. 

“We will remain focused on our mission by providing our members with actionable data they can use to keep their voter rolls more accurate, investigate potential illegal activity, and offer voter registration information to those who may need it,” Hamlin wrote.

ERIC’s mission statement aligns with a resolution the National Association of Secretaries of State reauthorized last year, when Ardoin was the group’s president. It says its members “are committed to encouraging voter registration and increasing access to elections.”

Louisiana’s departure from ERIC sends just the opposite message. 

Ardoin recently said he would investigate claims from organizers of the recall against New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell that up to 30,000 ineligible voters are on the city’s rolls, according to The Times-Picayune. In doing so, Ardoin agreed to lower the threshold of signatures needed on a recall petition. Even then, the effort came up woefully short.

The secretary of state is also behind a proposal in the Louisiana Legislature to provide for a supplemental voter canvass to remove voters who no longer reside at the address provided to local election officials.

There are no corresponding efforts from Ardoin, or most any other Republican secretary of state, to increase voter registration. There’s a clear pattern here: Purge voters, good; add voters, bad. 

It’s said that actions speak louder than words. But in the absence of words, Ardoin’s actions speak volumes. 

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