Organization Trends

ERIC’s Friends in the Activist Left: CEIR and ERIC

Part of our developing series on the
Electronic Registration Information Center

ERIC’s Friends in the Activist Left (full series)
Born in the Shadows | CEIR and ERIC
Secret Meetings with Elections Officials


David Becker left ERIC in 2016 to found the Center for Election Innovation and Research (CEIR), though he remains a nonvoting member of ERIC’s board. That ought to raise eyebrows since CEIR is as partisan as they come, receiving $70 million from Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 to promote mail-in ballots, unaccountable drop boxes, and “urgent voter education assistance” in the states. We’ve traced CEIR funds to Maryland’s $2 million campaign in 2020 to register and turn out likely Democratic voters in Baltimore and the counties bordering Washington, DC.

More alarmingly, the watchdog group Verity Vote has discovered that ERIC maintains a data-sharing agreement with CEIR, which CEIR allegedly uses to generate lists of eligible voters to target.

Public records from late December 2020 and early January 2021 obtained by the center-right watchdog American Accountability Foundation (AAF) reveal CEIR project manager Kyle Upchurch asking Pennsylvania Deputy Elections Secretary Jonathan M. Marks for information on EBUs in December 2020, information collected as part of the state’s membership in ERIC.

Critically, Upchurch sought Pennsylvania’s voter file, the universe of all registered voters, which includes sensitive information such as Pennsylvanians’ addresses and voting history.

CEIR also requested data on EBUs’ demographic info (e.g., date of birth, race, gender, party, language, address) registration date and source, and voting history, as well as their “ERIC notice ID.” The group wanted to know whether Pennsylvania was tracking “undeliverable EBU mailers” and voters who were already registered, information that could be used to build a valuable voter universe for get-out-the-vote groups.

Credit: Public records request by American Accountability Foundation.

Credit: Public records request by American Accountability Foundation.

AAF’s records also shed light on the $13 million in “Zuck bucks” CEIR granted to Pennsylvania in 2020, funds that originated with Mark Zuckerberg. A memorandum on January 14, 2022 from Pennsylvania Acting Secretary of State Leigh Chapman (D) to David Becker notes that the state spent $201,283 in a paid media campaign, complete with text messages and television, radio, and social media ads advising voters on mail-in ballot options and Election Day reminders.

A separate email chain shows Becker and Matthew Masterson solicited elections officials in November 2021 to sign a letter of support for “the tremendously competent and dedicated election director Meagan Wolfe,” a controversial member of the Wisconsin Election Commission (WEC) who oversaw the last-minute changes to state voting laws ahead of the 2020 election. At least one Republican state legislator has called on Wolfe to resign, accusing her of turning the WEC into a “rogue agency.”

CEIR’s “Democracy Awards”

Documents obtained via public records request by the conservative County Citizens Defending Freedom (CCDF-USA) reveal more of CEIR’s meddling in the country’s election infrastructure. In July 2022, Becker invited at least a dozen Florida county election officials to CEIR’s “Defender of Democracy Awards,” which it describes as “a celebration of those who protect American democracy” by “standing up to efforts to undermine the democratic process.”

Panel speakers included Becker; controversial Secretaries of State Brad Raffensperger (R-Georgia) and Jocelyn Benson (D-Michigan); Gabriel Sterling (R), Raffensperger’s chief operating officer and a noted Trump critic; Republican election attorney Ben Ginsberg, who co-chair’s CEIR’s Election Official Legal Defense Network (EOLDN); retired Judge Thomas B. Griffith, a member of President Joe Biden’s court-packing commission; retired Judge J. Michael Luttig, another Trump opponent who serves on the advisory board of the anti-voter ID group Safeguarding Democracy Project; CBS News correspondent Major Garrett; CNN correspondent Kyung Lah; and ex-Philadelphia City Commissioner Al Schmidt (R), whose recent testimony in the January 6 hearings denied the existence of Pennsylvania voter fraud in 2020.

It’s likely but unclear whether the panelists received CEIR’s awards. We do know from a separate email that Orange County, Florida, elections supervisor Bill Cowles received a Defender of Democracy Award. “It’s always good seeing and hearing your thoughts,” Cowles wrote to Becker on July 11. “Let us know when your speaking in the Virgin Islands!!!”

Credit: County Citizens Defending Freedom.

In the next installment, CEIR convened secret meetings with election officials.

Hayden Ludwig

Hayden Ludwig is the Director of Policy Research at Restoration of America. He was formerly Senior Investigative Researcher at Capital Research Center. Ludwig is a native of Orange County, California,…
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