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Election Integrity News Blog


Michigan Senators Ed McBroom and Winnie Brinks sign away voter privacy rights

Senator Ed McBroom (R) and Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D) cut a deal that is likely hand the third-party Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC) more of Michiganders' private, personally identifiable information.

by Patrice Johnson and Jeff Schaeper

Senate Bill 339 started as good legislation. Tucked among an onslaught of bad bills, it promised to allow voters the opportunity to track the status of their absentee ballots on a website or a mobile application. Pure Integrity Michigan Elections, PIME, supported SB 339 for its increased transparency to voters and the accountability it promised to place on those handling the people’s ballots. Then State Senator Ed McBroom (R) met with Senate Majority Leader Winnie Brinks (D), and the bill took a dark turn.

McBroom offered to change the bill’s language. He cut a phrase here and added a sentence there. What emerged was a bill that threatens residents’ privacy rights.

McBroom, without consulting Sen. Ruth Johnson, the ranking Republican on the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee,agreed to strike bill language that restricted the state from sharing residents’ personal information. Then, he added wording to expand the government’s authority to share voters’ private and personal identifying information (PII) with “individuals authorized by the secretary of state to maintain the electronic tracking system.”

Words matter, and the few changes that McBroom offered granted Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson the authority to share voters’ legally protected PII with individuals of her choosing. Among the obvious beneficiaries was the highly controversial Electronic Registration Information Center, ERIC.

After McBroom introduced his amendment, the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee wasted no time in adopting the so-called bipartisan language. On June 7 Substitute Senate Bill 339 whisked through committee. On the same day with no substantial debate or public comment, the bill was introduced onto the Senate floor and passed by roll call vote, 327 yeas, 22 nays, 16 excused.

Thanks to McBroom’s machinations, Substitute SB 339 is likely to pass the Democrat-controlled House. Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D) would then sign the bill into law.

If SB 339 is enacted, thanks to McBroom and Brinks, any voter who signs up to receive notifications of their absentee ballot’s status will automatically have their phone numbers and email addresses shared with third parties of the partisan secretary of state’s choosing.

The PII sharing will not end there. According to the agreement Benson signed with ERIC, the opaque, Delaware non-profit organization may share its participants' data with its undisclosed agents, contractors, and subcontractors.

How likely is ERIC to get a hold of the personal, identifying information captured by SB 339?

Despite growing controversy surrounding ERIC, Secretary Benson has become one of its most vocal proponents. After being sworn into office in January 2019, one of Benson’s first actions as the state’s newly elected head of elections, was to pay $25,000 of taxpayer funds to enroll Michigan in the third-party ERIC on the auspices of cleaning the state’s voter rolls. ERIC has no physical office, and all three of its employees work remotely.

Over the past few months, eight member states, including an original member, exited ERIC’s controversial interstate agreement. They cited concerns that the organization is politicized and sharing voters’ personal identifying information with biased third parties. One known third party is the ultra-Left Center for Innovation and Research. CEIR’s founder and chair, David Becker, also founded and previously chaired ERIC.

Experts maintain that better, cheaper, and easier technologies have become available since ERIC’s founding in 2012.

Then, there is the issue of ERIC’s lack of transparency. The registration system requires member states to contact 95% of the “eligible but unregistered” voters on a list that ERIC provides its members. But ERIC refuses to disclose the algorithms it uses to generate the lists.

Critics also stress that ERIC washes its hands of responsibility for any noncitizen voters on the rolls. They argue that the beleaguered system has declined to 25 members, so it lacks data from half the states and cannot do what it professes to do: Check for out-state and duplicate voters.

Since Michigan joined ERIC and for the first time in the state’s history, its voter rolls have bloated to contain more registered voters than voting-aged residents. Inactive and duplicate voter rolls are ripe for election fraud.

Despite these and other mounting criticisms, Benson has redoubled her support of ERIC. She continues to transmit the state’s voter roll (Qualified Voter File) and Department of Motor Vehicle information to ERIC. If Substitute for SB 339 is enacted into law, the Secretary will likely add Michigan residents’ phone numbers and email addresses into the mix of PII her office currently sends to ERIC every 60 days.

Sen. McBroom, represents the 38th Senate District in the Upper Peninsula. He and Sen. Lana Theis (R) are responsible for the Senate Oversight Report that concluded “the results of the November 2020 General Election in Michigan were accurately represented by the certified and audited results.” His website describes him “as fourth-generation dairy farmer” and states he holds “bachelor’s degrees in music education and social studies secondary education.”

Winnie Brinks, represents Michigan’s 29th Senate District, which includes parts of Grand Rapids Charter Township, Grand Rapids, and all of East Grand Rapids. She earned a bachelor’s degree in Spanish with a concentration in sociology.

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