Note: This story has been updated to include Alaska’s annual spending associated with the Electronic Registration Information Center.
Newly appointed Alaska Division of Elections Director Carol Beecher said Thursday that she was considering severing ties with a nonprofit that helps maintain voter rolls, after several Republican-led states announced earlier this month their intention to pull out of the effort.
Beecher told state lawmakers she was evaluating Alaska’s membership in the organization during a presentation to the Senate State Affairs committee. She cited the cost of the program as a reason for leaving despite the benefits it provides.
Her comments came after Florida, Missouri and West Virginia announced plans to no longer work with the Electronic Registration Information Center, a voluntary system known as ERIC that aims to help member states maintain accurate voter lists. Other states, including Texas, are considering pulling out.
ERIC has been the target of false claims from Republican former President Donald Trump and his allies, who have pointed to funding the program received from George Soros, a liberal billionaire and investor, as cause for concern. Trump wrote earlier this week on his social media platform that Republican-led states should pull out of the system, saying it “‘pumps the rolls’ for Democrats.”
“We are definitely looking into it,” said Beecher, who is a member of the Republican Party and has donated money to Republican candidates, including to Trump, but has vowed to keep her own political views separate from her position as required by state statutes.
[Election deniers take aim at group that helps states maintain voter rolls]
“There are some benefits to remaining in (ERIC) because it does help us with list maintenance. There are also some drawbacks,” Beecher said in her first presentation to legislators since she was appointed to oversee the state’s elections by Lt. Gov. Nancy Dahlstrom earlier this year.
Beecher said the organization helps the division remove individuals from Alaska voter rolls if they move to another state, but she added that given the cost of membership, she was considering alternatives.
“It’s expensive and we are a small state, so to the degree that it has a value monetarily based on our smaller population in the cleaning it does — are there ways that we could do it better ourselves? Those are the things that we’re looking into to see if this is a good return on investment for the state,” said Beecher, who did not provide the specific cost of the program during her exchange with lawmakers.
According to data provided by the Division of Elections on Monday, ERIC fees and dues in recent years have been less than $17,000 annually. Additionally, the state has spent between $10,000 and $24,000 per year on contacting voters by mail once the system identified issues with their registration.
Between 2016, when Alaska joined the program, and the midpoint of 2022, the state paid a total of just under $199,000 for both annual membership dues and mailing expenses. In that time, the service helped the state cancel the registration of 14,000 individuals who left Alaska and 1,565 individuals who died.
The program has also helped the state identify and contact more than 136,000 individuals who were eligible to vote but not registered between 2016 and 2022.
Election officials in other states, including some Republican-controlled states, have praised the system and reported that it has helped them identify thousands of names to be removed from voter lists.
Beecher’s comments were met with some concern by members of the Senate State Affairs committee, including Sen. Matt Claman, D-Anchorage, who urged Beecher to analyze alternatives before deciding to leave the organization.
“If somebody says ERIC is imperfect, I bet it’s imperfect. The question becomes, do we have a better alternative and if we were going to switch, do we have confidence that that alternative will actually work better?” Claman said.
The prospect of leaving ERIC is supported by Sen. Mike Shower, R-Wasilla. The conservative Republican — one of three who are not members of the bipartisan Senate majority caucus — said that he has opposed the organization because he believes that the state is illegally sharing voter information with ERIC, which he described as a private, non-governmental entity that is not subject to direct government oversight. Instead, Shower said he thought the state should rely on government departments to gather information for updating voter rolls.
“I hear people talking about the Soros funding and all the other garbage. I don’t care if it was the Koch brothers funding this, I am not comfortable with a non-governmental entity telling a state what it can and can’t do,” said Shower.
ERIC was founded in 2012, the same year a report found that one out of eight voter registrations in the U.S. were no longer valid. The organization uses voter registration information and motor vehicle department information from member states to identify when people move from state to state or within a state.
Both Claman and fellow committee member Sen. Bill Wielechowski, D-Anchorage, said after the committee hearing that they were not worried about Beecher’s comments because she had not committed to cutting ties with ERIC without identifying an alternative.
But Senate Majority Leader Cathy Giessel, R-Anchorage, has expressed concern about Beecher’s appointment to the role, given Beecher’s refusal to change her registration as a member of the Republican Party.
“It’s critical that that job is a nonpartisan person, so it does cause some concern that she’s not willing to be a nonpartisan person in her affiliation,” Giessel said Thursday. “Whether that affects her judgment remains to be seen.”
Alaska’s previous elections director, Gail Fenumiai, had not been a registered member of either political party. Fenumiai retired after administering Alaska’s 2022 elections. Dahlstrom, the lieutenant governor charged with appointing an elections director, announced in February that she had selected Beecher for the role, a few months after Beecher had donated to Dahlstrom and Gov. Mike Dunleavy’s campaign for office.
Giessel, who served as president of the Anchorage Republican Women’s Club more than a decade ago when Beecher was a member of the club, described Beecher as “a solid Republican.”
“I think that jeopardizes one’s judgment, which is why I think it’s important it’s a nonpartisan person who is willing to say, ‘I am nonpartisan,’” Giessel said.
Daily News reporter Sean Maguire contributed from Juneau.