Gov. Youngkin vetoes bills to rejoin voter-sharing organization

Emily Richardson/Capital News Service | 3/21/2024, 6 p.m.
Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently vetoed two bills that would have allowed Virginia to rejoin a national organization that helps maintain …

Gov. Glenn Youngkin recently vetoed two bills that would have allowed Virginia to rejoin a national organization that helps maintain voter rolls.

The nonpartisan Election Registration Information Center, or ERIC, ensures up-to-date voter rolls and helps voters register when they move, according to Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico. Virginia was a founding member of ERIC in 2012 under the direction of former Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Virginia withdrew from ERIC in May 2023, citing other states departing and “increasing concerns regarding stewardship, maintenance, privacy and confidentiality of voter information,” among other reasons, according to a letter from the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Elections.

Nine states had left ERIC by October 2023, according to Sen. VanValkenburg.

Sen. VanValkenburg introduced Senate Bill 606 to require state membership in ERIC and a budget amendment to cover membership fees. Del. Mark Sickles, D-Fairfax, introduced an identical measure.

Democrats narrowly pushed the proposals past both chambers, where they hold a slim majority.

The vetoes come at a time when election methods and voting-related policy are being questioned by state legislatures across the country.

“Objectively, ERIC is the best way to maintain up-to-date voter rolls,” Sen. VanValkenburg said.

He expressed disappointment with the veto and the governor’s “continued insistence on playing politics with our election security” ahead of the 2024 election on X, formerly known as Twitter.

“It is deeply troubling for our democracy when our Governor and Virginia Republicans compromise the security of our elections and our ability to maintain accurate voter lists in an attempt to satiate the most extreme, MAGA-wing of their party,” Sen. VanValkenburg stated.

Sen. VanValkenburg said he thought the governor might veto his bill. The state budget has $200,000 allotted to cover the membership cost, which the General Assembly passed in its final version.

The Department of Elections could use ERIC in tandem with other services, Del. Sickles stated. Pointing out that the department previously praised ERIC, he said, “Nothing changed in the ERIC states to reduce its effectiveness or quality.”

A 2022 list maintenance report by the Virginia Department of Elections states that participation in ERIC “streamlined” Virginia’s cooperation with other states in the sharing of voter registration data.

The 2023 report briefly mentions ERIC but focused on how the department now works to confirm state voter data, including felony convictions that prevent a person from voting. The new approach yielded criticism after 3,400 qualified voters were purged from the list.

Virginia signed agreements with six nearby states last September to share data and “securely compare voter lists and identify potential voter fraud.”

Currently 24 states and the District of Columbia are ERIC members. There was a recent exodus of Republican-led member states fueled by “right-wing misinformation,” according to Sen. VanValkenburg.

Virginia’s decision to leave ERIC was a result of “persistent management issues, improper data use, escalating costs and the inability to meet statutory requirements for border state information sharing,” the governor stated in his veto of SB 606.

Virginia attempted to reform the organization’s bylaws before leaving, according to Gov. Youngkin’s spokesperson Christian Martinez.

“Virginia decided to diversify its list maintenance efforts, successfully sought direct access to state and federal data sources and increased the number of states from where we receive data,” Mr. Martinez stated.

These current agreements incur no additional costs, according to the veto, which also states that ERIC membership fees have increased more than 115% since 2022.

Election law became a partisan issue as a result of misinformation former President Donald Trump and other election deniers spread about ERIC and election administration, Sen. VanValkenburg said.

“I think ERIC got caught up in the big lie of the 2020 election, and unfortunately that’s filtered its way down to the votes on rejoining,” he added.

Noting the importance of legislators make secure and accessible elections a bipartisan priority, Sen. VanValkenburg said he has advocated such practices since becoming a member of the General Assembly. “It’s unfortunate that we didn’t get bipartisan support.”

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