New documents reveal the Center for Election Innovation and Research’s true purpose: Juicing Democrat registration in the states, thanks to data provided by ERIC.
Originally published by American Greatness (05/12/2023)
In modern elections, the candidate who can turn out the bigger base is usually the winner. Put differently, the campaign with better voter data holds the trump card.
For more than a decade now, Democrats unquestionably have owned that trump card and used it to carve deep inroads into once solidly red states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Georgia, while Republicans have looked on in bafflement. It’s no secret why the Left is winning elections despite shrinking in the polls: They register new voters in droves, and conservatives do not.
More than 160 million people cast a ballot in the 2020 election. Yet there may be as many as 60 million more eligible-but-unregistered individuals (EBUs) out there—people who could lawfully vote but may not until they register in their state. They’re typically hard to reach and politically disinterested. Yet the party that can tap into this electoral goldmine—that is, identify and reach these potential voters—would be unbeatable.
For years, that party has been the Democrats. It may soon be the Republicans. Here’s why.
Permanent Democratic Power
In 2010, the Supreme Court ushered in a torrent of new political spending through its Citizens United v. FEC decision. “Progressives” who were convinced that big business would back Republicans to the hilt saw doom written on the wall. To counter this Republican tide, groups such as the Brennan Center proposed adding “millions of new voters onto the rolls through a modernized registration system—starting in 2010.”
In short, they needed to balloon the Democratic Party’s ranks to survive a GOP onslaught—an onslaught that never came.
“Voter registration modernization” proved a euphemism for inserting operatives into state election machinery. But EBU data is protected behind layers of federal privacy laws and across multiple state agencies (e.g. motor vehicle departments) and thus not available to political groups. It was Pew Charitable Trusts, a powerful left-of-center funder, that discovered the back door.
Between 2010 and 2012, Pew incubated the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC), a 501(c)(3) nonprofit that billed itself as the solution to an entirely different problem presented to the states: Maintaining their voter rolls, which are notoriously inaccurate and constantly in flux. For a fee, ERIC would graciously warehouse states’ voter roll data and identify potential double voters using sophisticated data-matching software.
That’s the sales pitch, anyway. In truth, ERIC makes the removal of ineligible voters entirely optional and tedious, while mandating member states spend hundreds of thousands in taxpayer dollars to register new voters. Far from streamlining voter rolls, ERIC expands them, which is why non-ERIC states have cleaner rolls than their ERIC counterparts.
More furtively, ERIC would also gain access to invaluable data on tens of millions of EBUs—a database that no other group in the world has access to. But how to use it?
We know from public records requests that ERIC soon established a data-sharing agreement with a heretofore obscure nonprofit, the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR). Amazingly, the corporate leftist media continues to claim this inconvenient fact is “without evidence.”
ERIC and CEIR share a founder: David Becker, a partisan elections lawyer who previously worked for the far-left People for the American Way and the Justice Department’s voting rights arm. Becker is well known as a “hardcore leftist” who can’t “stand conservatives.” Yet Pew presented him as the nonpartisan face of its ERIC project.
Becker spent four years persuading nearly two-thirds of the states to join ERIC before departing to found CEIR in 2016. Yet until recently, Becker remained a nonvoting member of ERIC’s board, courtesy of a carve-out in ERIC’s bylaws made specifically for him to ensure continued oversight of the ostensibly “neutral” and state-led organization.
If ERIC is the face presentable to election officials, CEIR is Becker’s policy shop. The group was founded with seed capital from the Hewlett Foundation and eBay founder Pierre Omidyar, who routed the cash through Arabella Advisors’ massive “dark money” network.
More funding may have come from Pew, which continued to fund CEIR’s “sister” group, ERIC, for years. We know that CEIR’s other co-founder, Amy Cohen, led Pew’s Google-funded Voting Information Project, part of the “voter registration modernization” push. Yet strangely, Cohen never appears in CEIR’s disclosures as a paid employee, perhaps because her salary was paid by Pew.
CEIR supports vote-by-mail expansion and ever-earlier voting. It also pushes the lie that conservatives and Trump supporters are a threat to election workers while barring center-right reporters from its press conferences. Becker himself dismisses critics as “fueled by disinformation” because we “want our democracy to fail.”
CEIR received $70 million from Mark Zuckerberg in 2020, funds that drove Democratic turnout in Maryland and helped subsidize ERIC’s voter registration mandate in other states. Pennsylvania received $13 million, Michigan $12 million, New York $5 million, Georgia $5.6 million, and Arizona $4.8 million. How each grant was spent remains largely unknown, despite watchdog groups’ best efforts.
But CEIR’s founding documents reveal the truth about its origins. It was created to encourage ERIC membership and “work closely with ERIC” to register millions of new voters using exclusive EBU data in order to “turn non-voters into active participants” in future elections.
Imagine having a picture-perfect map of everyone—both registered and unregistered—living within your state’s borders. A campaign knows that an individual’s age, race, county of residence, and marital status are enough to strongly indicate how that person will vote. How difficult would it be to only target your own party’s likely voters?
Armed with this near-perfect picture of every person living in ERIC’s 32 member states—more than 200 million Americans—there is nothing stopping CEIR from doing it exactly that: registering only its preferred voters.
If that sounds far-fetched, consider that in 2020 alone, the left-wing groups funneled $434 million through a vast array of tax-exempt nonprofits, such as Stacey Abrams’ Fair Fight in Georgia, that do nothing but register new Democrats. Virtually all of that money came from the Tides, Ford, Open Society, Wyss, and Buffett Foundations, among other donors supposedly engaged in charity.
These organizations would be near-worthless without EBU data, which is only available through ERIC. So where do they acquire it? The smart money would pin it on Becker’s CEIR.
CEIR operates virtually in the dark with little scrutiny from the “progressive” press, who are less interested in covering CEIR’s misdeeds than covering for them. Contrast that with the work of investigative reporters like Todd Shepherd of the right-leaning outlet Broad + Liberty. He recently reported that Pennsylvania transferred partial data profiles of hundreds of thousands of EBUs to CEIR in 2020. That information would have proved invaluable to partisan groups active in Pennsylvania that year. Yet CEIR refuses to say what it did with the trove of voter data.
But CEIR’s founding documents give us every reason to believe this is precisely what it’s doing. It’s up to Becker and Co. to convince the public that it isn’t misusing this priceless data, despite having the means, motive, and opportunity to do so.
A Right-Wing Wrecking Ball
So what can conservatives do to level the playing field?
A good axiom in warfare applies here: Turn your enemy’s strength into his greatest weakness.
Japan famously turned many Pacific islands into impenetrable fortresses in World War II and dared U.S. forces to attack them. Instead, we sailed around them to take weaker targets and let the garrisons starve. After Rome’s devastating defeat at the hands of Hannibal’s mighty army in the Second Punic War, Rome divided its legions into smaller forces to cover more ground. Like wolves wearing out a bear, they could be everywhere while the Carthaginians could not. Hannibal lost.
Likewise, we won’t defeat this powerful cabal in a single battle, but by nibbling it to death. The House should demand to know why the IRS refuses to strip these groups of their tax exemption for trespassing the law on biased voter registration campaigns. Conservative legislatures ought to hold hearings on out-of-state nonprofits running partisan registration drives in their jurisdiction. The states can tighten rules about who gets to register voters the same way they restrict ballot harvesting—either restricting it to family members or banning it altogether. Where there’s room for abuse, the Left will abuse the law.
Watchdogs and citizens can and should file complaints with the IRS and FEC against these groups. Conservatives are used to being attacked for their political views; very few leftists have ever faced the same kind of scrutiny. They can also demand 501(c)(3) and (c)(4) groups’ annual Form 990 disclosures, which reveal how much they took in and spent. (Here is a template and some guidelines.)
To date, nine states—Ohio, Florida, Missouri, West Virginia, Louisiana, Texas, Iowa, Alabama, and Alaska—have left or are about to leave ERIC. [Ed. note: Virginia left ERIC the day of publication, the eighth state to exit.] Their leaders know that they don’t need ERIC to maintain good voter rolls because they already have the tools necessary for the job.
That leaves Arizona, Georgia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Utah, and Wisconsin for election integrity advocates to address.
The good news? In almost all cases, the decision to leave ERIC is entirely within the purview of the governor and secretary of state. Red states with a blue governor can look to the others on this list for legislation to leave ERIC without the governor’s consent.
Every one of these states to depart is one less state transmitting EBU data to the Left’s registration machine.