Florida’s exit from ERIC pure right-wing hypocrisy | Editorial

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When Florida followed many other states in joining a respected multi-state national voter integrity compact in 2019, Gov. Ron DeSantis called it “the right thing to do.”

It certainly was — and it was long overdue, too.

But now, Florida has abruptly pulled out of the Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, and it was absolutely the wrong thing to do.

It’s another example of how DeSantis puts his presidential political ambitions ahead of his state’s priorities, and puts the lie to his frequent claim that he’s committed to the highest standards of election integrity.

The first suspicious sign of this abrupt about-face was the fact that neither DeSantis nor his chief elections official, Secretary of State Cord Byrd, told Florida’s 67 county election supervisors that the state was severing ties with ERIC.

The supervisors were Florida’s biggest champions of ERIC, because it made it much easier to catch cases of voters registered in two or more states.

The county supervisors had made continued membership in ERIC one of their top priorities in the 2023 session as a way to keep scrubbing the voter rolls in Florida. They were blindsided by DeSantis’ decision.

Fearful of political retribution, some supervisors are reluctant to publicly criticize the state’s decision. One who wasn’t shy was Polk County’s Lori Edwards, who said: “It’s really a loss ... There’s no reliable communication between states that keeps us informed when voters leave the state of Florida and register somewhere else. So we’ve just gone back to the dark ages without ERIC.”

A big blast from Georgia

If DeSantis is to have any chance of winning the Republican presidential nomination, he has to have credibility with the pro-Trump election-deniers, who are among the loudest voices in the GOP. That’s what ending Florida’s membership in ERIC is really about.

Florida’s sudden snub of ERIC brought a swift denunciation from Georgia’s top elections official, Secretary of State Brad Raffensberger, who’s very familiar to many Floridians for his strong resistance to former President Donald Trump’s effort to overturn the Georgia election results.

“Any state that prioritizes politics over best practices and opts out of ERIC ahead of next year’s presidential election actually runs the risk of having outdated voter rolls,” Raffensberger told the Sun Sentinel Editorial Board. “If states are interested in strengthening elections, withdrawing from ERIC does just the opposite.”

Raffensberger, who’s a Republican, is especially frustrated because there’s so much cross-migration between his state and Florida. Because of DeSantis’ twisted priorities, Georgia’s voter rolls will be less accurate.

Florida is not alone. Two other deep red states, Missouri and West Virginia, recently quit ERIC, and conspiracy theorists now want Texas to jump ship, too. They are making baseless accusations that ERIC is funded by the billionaire George Soros.

But Florida’s status as a national leader in in- and out-migration made it ERIC’s biggest catch, and it took years of effort by the state’s elections professionals.

In explaining Florida’s reversal, Byrd claimed ERIC denied the state’s requests for changes, such as prohibiting non-voting members from serving on ERIC’s board. One such non-voting member is David Becker, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and a respected voting expert who has been a consistent critic of election deniers.

Scott’s stubbornness

Throughout the eight-year tenure of former Gov. Rick Scott, the state stubbornly refused to join ERIC, despite steady pleas from election supervisors, as one red state after another joined the organization.

To DeSantis’ credit, Florida finally joined ERIC in August 2019, several weeks after a Sun Sentinel editorial that carried the headline: “Florida leaders talk about fighting election fraud, then do nothing.”

Membership in ERIC came with a catch: In even-numbered years, member states were required to pay for a statewide mailing to the many adults who were able to vote but did not, the population known as EBUs — for eligible but unregistered.

In 2022, Florida did not send a statewide mailing to the many EBUs in Florida. In a December 2022 letter that the state made public for the first time Tuesday, the Division of Elections said the file of EBU adults in Florida never arrived, and that Florida would seek an exemption from future ERIC requirements to mail notices to unregistered adults.

But an effective mailing likely would have ensured that many more young people and people of color would have joined the voter rolls in Florida, and that’s one thing that DeSantis and other Republican politicians in Florida don’t want.

The Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board includes Editor-in-Chief Julie Anderson, Opinion Page Editor Krys Fluker and Viewpoints Editor Jay Reddick. The Sun Sentinel Editorial Board consists of Editorial Page Editor Steve Bousquet, Deputy Editorial Page Editor Dan Sweeney, and Anderson. Send letters to insight@orlandosentinel.com.