Georgia County Signs Up to Use Voter Database Backed by Election Deniers

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By Ketrin Agustine

Georgia County Signs Up to Use Voter Database Backed by Election Deniers

The decision ignores warnings from voting rights groups and some election experts.

A suburban county in Georgia agreed on Friday to use a new voter information database endorsed by the election denial movement, a move that defied warnings from voting rights groups, election security experts and state election officials.

Columbia County, a heavily Republican county outside Augusta, is the first in the country known to have agreed to use the platform, called EagleAI. Its supporters claim the system will make it easier to purge the rolls of ineligible voters.

Among the leading backers for this new system is Cleta Mitchell, a central figure in former President Donald J. Trump’s efforts to subvert the 2020 election and the leader of the Election Integrity Network, a national coalition of activists built around the false idea that the 2020 election was stolen.

Ms. Mitchell and others have billed EagleAI as an alternative to the Election Registration Information Center, a widely used interstate system that made it easier for officials to track address changes and deaths as they maintain the voter rolls. That system, known as ERIC, has become the subject of conspiracy theories and misinformation that prompted nine states to withdraw with few backup plans.

Ms. Mitchell declined to answer questions about the county’s decision.

At an election board meeting Friday, around 40 people packed a room, with all speakers favoring the new system, according to Larry Wiggins, a Democratic member of the board who said he voted in favor.

Mr. Wiggins said he was hopeful the tool would help the county handle an expected influx of voter eligibility challenges next year. A 2021 law made it easier for individuals to challenge large numbers of other voters’ registrations at once. Those challenges have often come from the same community of Republican activists now helping to push the EagleAI software.

EagleAI was developed by a retired doctor in Columbia County, John Richards Jr., who did not response to a request for comment.

Georgia state officials, who reviewed the EagleAI presentations, have found them riddled with errors and said the tools were unnecessary, according to documents provided by the groups American Oversight and Documented.

In May, William S. Duffey Jr., the chairman of the State Election Board in Georgia, sent a letter to the county board of elections warning that EagleAI’s software might violate state privacy laws and state election statutes.

The county responded in November that it would not allow access to private voter information and that the use of the tools would be limited.

In a statement, the Georgia secretary of state’s office noted that the state still belonged to the Election Registration Information Center and that counties needed to follow state laws.

Election experts have labeled the new system unnecessary and flawed.

“EagleAI cannot be trusted to provide reliable information regarding who on the voter rolls is not eligible to remain there,” wrote seven voting rights and election organizations in a letter to Columbia County commissioners. It continued: “It will point you towards false positives and waste your staff’s time.”

But Mr. Wiggins said the board wasn’t convinced. “We don’t put much faith in letters from outside groups,” Mr. Wiggins said. “We pay more attention to local individuals.”

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