Written by Bruce Schreiner for the Associated Press
Kentucky will remain in a multistate effort designed to ensure accurate voter lists for another year while looking for possible alternatives to detect voter fraud, the state’s chief election officer said Wednesday.
Secretary of State Michael Adams weighed in on Kentucky’s future role in a partnership that has has drawn suspicion among some Republicans. Kentucky joined the Electronic Registration Information Center, known as ERIC, several years ago in stepping up compliance efforts over its voter rolls.
With those efforts still ongoing, it would be “irresponsible” to withdraw immediately from the bipartisan group without having a backup plan, Adams, a Republican, said in a statement.
“ERIC has helped Kentucky comply with the law and conduct fair elections,” Adams said in explaining his decision. “While my administration will never cave to conspiracy theorists, it nevertheless is true that the value of ERIC to us going forward is a debatable question.”
It would be as “equally irresponsible” for Kentucky to remain enrolled in the group permanently, given its declining membership, Adams said. Seven states, roughly a quarter of ERIC’s membership, recently announced their intention to leave or already have done so, he said. That means Kentucky’s membership dues will increase while just one of its neighboring states will remain a group member, he said.
Because people moving in and out of Kentucky disproportionately involves its neighboring states, Kentucky will end up paying “more money to get a lot less information,” Adams said.
As a result, Kentucky will remain part of the group for one more year, he said.
Adams said he will use that time to consult with other secretaries of state and review possible alternatives to ERIC. Adams is seeking reelection to a second term this year and is being challenged in the November general election by Democrat Buddy Wheatley, a former state lawmaker.
Kentucky’s membership in the multistate group has surfaced as an issue. In the spring primary campaign, one of Adams’ GOP challengers called for Kentucky to pull out of the partnership. Adams won his party’s nomination by a wide margin in the May primary.
Meanwhile, Adams’ announcement Wednesday drew criticism from the state Democratic Party, which accused him of “risking the integrity of Kentucky’s elections in the face of political pressure.”
State Democratic Party spokesperson Anna Breedlove said Adams was “punting a decision on leaving ERIC until after an election year so he doesn’t have to take the heat.”
One overarching question is whether Kentucky can withdraw from the group.
Kentucky joined the partnership in the wake of a legal settlement stemming from controversies over the handling of voter rolls by his Democratic predecessor. Adams said Wednesday that he has asked a judge whether Kentucky is obligated to remain in the group.
“Should the court permit us to depart ERIC, we still need time to do our due diligence, locate the availability of alternatives to receive the necessary information, assess the costs of those alternatives and determine whether authorizing legislation is necessary to pursue them,” Adams said.
ERIC has a record of combating voter fraud by identifying those who have died or moved between states. The system works by states sharing certain data through secure channels, allowing election officials to identify and remove people from voter rolls who have died or moved to other states. ERIC also helps states identify and ultimately prosecute people who vote in multiple states.
Yet it also has drawn suspicion among some Republican state leaders after a series of online stories surfaced last year questioning the center’s funding and purpose. Conspiracies targeting the group have prompted some GOP-leaning states to leave.
During his term as secretary of state, Kentucky has removed from its rolls about 330,000 voters who moved away, died or were incarcerated, Adams said. The state’s membership in the bipartisan group contributed to that accomplishment, he said.
“Prior to last year, ERIC was not controversial,” he said. “Unfortunately, like any effort at bipartisanship in recent history, it has come under attack.”