Just weeks ago, Yellowstone County Judge Michael Moses blocked four recent Montana voting restriction laws from taking effect for this year’s elections. While a full ruling on the laws’ constitutionality is months away, perhaps the defeat is what led Republicans to abandon their threat to call a special legislative session to build even more barriers to voting.
Yet Montana does have reason to improve one aspect of securing elections in which we lag behind most states: keeping voter rolls free of duplicate or ineligible registrations.
Unknown to most Montanans, a system to keep voter rolls current has operated effectively for a decade. Created in 2012 through collaboration among several states and the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) is a nonprofit, nonpartisan consortium managed and financed through voluntary membership by 30 U.S. states.
Participating states regularly upload voter registration and motor vehicle license records through a secure, encrypted process. ERIC amasses the state data, then identifies and reports back any inaccuracies or duplicates, flags who moved, who died, and who is eligible to vote but isn’t registered. It’s a one-stop solution to guarantee highly accurate voter rolls.
ERIC can even identify illegitimate votes. Among the 14.6 million mail ballots cast during the 2016 and 2018 elections, ERIC flagged 372 likely cases of double voting or someone casting a deceased person’s ballot among. That’s .0025 percent of votes cast.
Between 2012 and 2018, ERIC identified 10 million registered voters who had moved — the most common cause of voter roll inaccuracies — or appeared on more than one voting list. ERIC is the only reliable tool to learn whether any person cast ballots for the same election in different states.
Yet for all the professed Republican concern about voter fraud, Montana is not among the majority of states (split between Republican and Democratic-leaning) participating in ERIC. Why have Montana Republicans not taken this simple step to actually increase election security? And why have you not heard reporters asking politicians that question?
It’s not about cost. Montana’s annual dues to ERIC would be about $20,000 — a fraction of the legal costs Republicans have imposed on taxpayers by passing election laws certain to be challenged by Indigenous, youth, or disability rights groups whose constituents are targeted.
With ERIC’s successful track record, no state had ever dropped out until Louisiana’s Secretary of State withdrew in January. Then Republican candidates for Secretary of State in Ohio and Alabama declared they’d withdraw from ERIC if they gained power. The excuse to sabotage genuine election integrity was drawn from fabricated and easily disproved allegations about ERIC published by the far-right Gateway Pundit blog.
It seems actually preventing the rare instances of illegal votes is the last thing some Republicans want, because that would erase their excuse for imposing more than fifty distinct voter suppression tactics across U.S. states.
Steve Daines, Matt Rosendale, and other Montana GOP members all have been accomplices in undermining faith in our elections and our public servants. Daines’ treachery included texting his supporters after Trump lost the 2020 election by over 7 million votes to falsely claim “Dems are stealing the election.” They all are culpable for helping incite the violent attack against our republic on January 6 of last year.
The GOP cynically uses the suspicions they instilled in gullible followers through their lies to justify laws erecting voting barriers for demographic groups they disfavor. Indigenous and youth advocates are among those who successfully sought to block the voter suppression tactics from taking effect.
In case repeated lies about the 2020 elections are more vivid than the truth, the U.S. Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agencies (then-controlled by Trump appointee Chris Krebs) told us the 2020 election was the most secure in American history and that “There is no evidence that any voting system deleted or lost votes, changed votes, or was in any way compromised.”
Let’s call on Montana officials to stand up for democracy and reject the escalating assault on democracy. Joining ERIC is an administrative decision, so Montanans should ask Gov. Gianforte and Secretary of State Christi Jacobsen to take this one simple action to advance their professed desire for more secure elections.
Failure to act will tell us all we need to know about their credibility.