Critics express concerns about new Alabama voter registration database
A voting ballot. (Getty Images)
Election experts continue to express doubts about the viability of the Alabama Voter Integrity Database (AVID) that Alabama Secretary of State Wes Allen established in September.
Adam Ambrogi, chief of external affairs at the League of Women Voters of the United States, expressed doubts about the viability of the program at a virtual forum held by the organization on Saturday.
“To me, you don’t improve the system by just removing folks,” he said. “You remove appropriate folks, and you add appropriate folks.”
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Allen in January withdrew Alabama from the Election Registration Information Center (ERIC), a national consortium that gives election officials in member states data on address changes, allowing them to keep voter rolls accurate.
Earlier this month, Allen said in a statement that AVID “provides for the secure protection of Alabamians data, because it is maintained on an Alabama owned server located in our state, and the data is encrypted and hashed.”
The statement also said Allen was confident that AVID will give Alabama the “cleanest voter rolls we have ever had.”
ERIC triangulated information from death data obtained by the Social Security Administration; change of address data from the U.S. Postal Service and state motor vehicle data to find voters who have moved or otherwise should no longer be part of a particular state’s voter registration database.
States then use the data to update their voter registration databases.
“The member states are the folks that are the governing body,” Ambrogi said. “The board of directors does the governance of the system because it is an interstate element that was created. It has a 501(c)(3) status just because of its nature.”
Alabama had been using the services ERIC provided until this year when Allen decided to withdraw from the interstate compact out of concerns that a third-party provider was handling data of Alabama voters. Allen also stated during his 2022 campaign, incorrectly, that ERIC was a “Soros-funded, leftist group,” referring to billionaire George Soros.
Alabama joined eight other conservative conservative-leaning states who removed themselves from the cooperative as election administration became politicized after the 2020 election amid former President Donald Trump’s repeated lies about the outcome.
“This is a great bipartisan organization,” said Sylvia Albert, director of voting and elections with Common Cause, a watchdog group that focuses on issues related to democracy and elections. “When you’re a politician who is appealing to the base, the bipartisanship doesn’t get people really excited, so I do think it just fell victim to political ridiculousness.”
After its withdrawal, Allen then set out to replicate ERIC’s capabilities using Alabama-based resources. After about nine months, he unveiled AVID in September.
“What makes it unique is that it is the first real response to make a concerted effort to clean up the rolls outside of ERIC with other states, and with other information sharing,” said Mitchell Brown, a professor of political science at Auburn University, during the forum.
AVID is ERIC in concept, using the same ideas that ERIC developed such as taking information from the Social Security Administration and the postal service to determine voters who have moved or have died.
The Secretary of State’s Office also partnered with the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency to determine voters who have moved and should no longer be on the rolls, and established memoranda of understanding with states along its borders to share voter registration data.
“They have done the analysis for one of those states, that is Tennessee,” Brown said. “They are getting ready to do the analysis for a second state, and that is Mississippi.”
Many of the states bordering Alabama are not part of ERIC. The idea is that Alabama can get better information by getting information from the states themselves.
But some election researchers and experts have concerns about security as part of the agreement between Alabama and the other states.
“I am glad that they have the password,” Amborgi said about the security measures laid out in the MOU between Alabama and its partner states. “That was the framework in the MOU that attempted to explain some of the security capabilities.”
Other components of election security that were vague. The MOUs signed by Alabama do not have specifics on security. By contrast, the ERIC website lays out the security measures it has in detail, and those specifics are missing from the MOUs.
Allen said the state will pay $12,000 for the licenses needed from the Social Security Administration and U.S. Postal Service, but little else has been put forward.
“The internal IT staff, the election department runs these and, as a byproduct of creating the AVID system, they have more than doubled their staff in order to have the capacity to do this,” Brown said.
“Alabama Secretary of State’s Office has not hired any IT or election staff to work on this project since Secretary Allen took office,” said Faith Pierce in an email, director of communications for the Alabama Secretary of State’s Office.
Albert had doubts about whether Alabama can replicate the quality of ERIC’s information.
“We also don’t know what matching criteria they are using,” Albert said. “That is so important. There are people with the same name who live in the same house.”
As an example, Albert cited the strong likelihood that people could have the same birthday.
“When you use really weak matching criteria, it opens up a huge black hole,” she said.
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