Is the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), which has a contract with the state of Alabama to maintain voter rolls, funded by billionaire activist George Soros?

State Representative Wes Allen (R), who is running for Secretary of State, says yes and that is enough reason for Alabama to end the relationship with ERIC.

Current Secretary of State John Merrill (R) calls the accusation nonsense.

Soros is a Hungarian-born American citizen who Forbes magazine named the “most generous giver” in terms of net worth. As of March 2021, Soros had donated more than $32 billion to the Open Society Foundations.

ERIC was formed in 2012 with assistance from The Pew Charitable Trusts, which Allen said is funded by Open Society.

“The Pew Charitable Trusts, the funding partner is Open Society,’’ Allen said. “Well, Open Society is George Soros. So even though Soros money may have been all spent by now, there’s no dispute that Soros’ money helped feed the project.”

Merrill said Allen’s claims are unfounded and that there is no empirical data or documents showing a direct connection between Soros and ERIC.

“First and foremost, ERIC was not founded nor funded by George Soros, and to claim otherwise is either dishonest or misinformed,” said Merrill. “No money has come from George Soros or any other liberal extremist.”

J. Christian Adams, the president of the Public Interest Legal Foundation, believes ERIC was started after a blue state effort destroyed the original, similar program, the Kansas State Cross Check system.

“ERIC and the Kansas Cross Check did similar things, but ERIC had more capability than Kansas Cross Check,” Adams told 1819 News. “Kansas Cross Check only looked at people registered in multiple states … there’s more functionality in ERIC.”

Adams believes Soros’ foundation did initially grant funds to Pew, but he said that was 12 years ago and he hasn’t identified a current connection between ERIC and the Open Society Foundation.

“Now it’s funded by the member states,” said Adams. “OSI (Open Society Foundation formerly known as Open Society Institute) doesn’t have anything to do with it anymore.”

While some claim ERIC is a leftist-run organization that could be used to manipulate elections, Merrill compared the indirect connection to a church accepting tithes from sinners.

“It would be just like this,” Merrill said. “You go to First Baptist Church Gardendale, and a noted gambler goes there, and that gambler gives a $10,000 contribution in the offering plate the next week. You think the church is giving that money back? No, that money has worked long enough for the devil, it’s time to do some work for the Lord!”

In a press release, Allen claimed ERIC “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.” Becker created the Center for Election Innovation and Research, the same organization accused in 2020 of distributing millions from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, to Democrat-led counties.

The purpose of ERIC is to help states maintain voter rolls by identifying potential registered voters who have passed away, moved out of state or have duplicate registrations. Specifically, ERIC has identified more than 19,000 potential dead voters, more than 22,000 potential cross-state movers, and more than 24,000 voter records of potential duplicates, in the state of Alabama.

Adams has other issues with the ERIC program and has led an effort to sue some states for information provided to the program.

READ PART I: Voter maintenance program controversy stems from political rumors, federal lawsuits

Alabama pays a fee of around $28,000 a year to be a member. Other states' fees vary, based on the citizen voting age and population. The fees range from $16,000 to $74,000, according to ERIC. Those fees go towards the organization’s annual budget of $1,037,000.

Each state that is a member of ERIC has a representative that communicates with ERIC to share information. In Alabama, Elections Director Clay Helms is that representative and submits voter registration and DMV data – including names, addresses, dates of birth, and the last four digits of social security numbers – to ERIC. That information is then entered into a database where ERIC identifies voters who may need to be removed from the state’s voter rolls.

Helms also attends board meetings for ERIC, whether in person or virtual. Merrill said that is how he is certain that data is not shared with any other organizations or groups, and how he knows the program is doing what it is intended to do.

Another candidate for Secretary of State, Ed Packard, was formerly the representative for ERIC. He worked for the Secretary of State's Office when the state joined the program.

"I had almost 25 years with the office," said Packard. "When we went on ERIC originally. I was there, I worked on it."

Packard said he doesn't have concerns about the program, but he said if he is elected Secretary of State, he will take the concerns of citizens into consideration.

ERIC claims to save states money by having less returned mail, fewer provisional ballots, and shorter lines at the polls.

Merrill said ERIC helps promote security, transparency and accountability.

“The voter rolls are the basic, foundational building block for successful election administration,” Merrill said.

Current states that are members of ERIC are Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Iowa, Kentucky, Maine, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

Louisiana was a member until late January when Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin announced his state was suspending participation in ERIC. Ardoin said he heard of accusations that ERIC was partly funded by possible “partisan actors” that may have access to data “for political purposes.”

Merrill said Ardoin’s decision is causing problems for other Republican states by putting them in a defensive posture over an issue about which people are not educated.

Merrill said Alabama is the gold standard in elections and is confident that he has not overlooked a Soros connection to the program.

Allen said there are discussions in the Alabama legislature about ERIC and how to deal with it.

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