Georgia county to use program linked to election denier to flag ineligible voters

A Georgia county on Friday agreed to use a controversial program to identify ineligible people on its voter rolls that is connected to one of the most prominent election deniers and a key figure in Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the 2020 election.

Columbia county, which is just outside Augusta, is believed to be the first place in the US to use the program, which is called EagleAI, the New York Times reported. The software matches voting data with publicly available information like post office and death records to flag people who should no longer be on the rolls.

It’s not immediately clear how the county plans to use the database, but Larry Wiggins, a Democratic member of the Columbia county board, told the Times that it would help officials there deal with challenges next year.

Civil rights and voting groups have warned that the system is not reliable and could result in eligible voters wrongfully being challenged.

“EagleAI cannot be trusted to provide reliable information regarding who on the voter rolls is not eligible to remain there. EagleAI relies solely on public information scraped from places like the National Change of Address database, criminal justice records, and property tax records … These sources are insufficient to determine whether someone is still eligible to vote at their place of registration,” the Brennan Center for Justice and six other voting rights organizations wrote in a letter earlier this year.

Blake Evans, the elections director in Georgia, has also been critical of the program. “EagleAI presentations that I have seen are confused and seem to steer counties towards improper list maintenance activities,” he told NBC News earlier this year. “EagleAI draws inaccurate conclusions and then presents them as if they are evidence of wrongdoing.”

John Richards Jr, a retired doctor in Columbia county who developed the software, dismissed those concerns.

“What many in the press, pundits and podcasters are doing is no different from screaming at Microsoft Word because someone wrote a letter using it; or more exactly, denigrating Excel for searching and sorting a list of data,” he wrote in an email to the Guardian in October. “EagleAI NETwork™ gathers data from governmental and other highly reliable sources and displays it in a convenient, efficient manner to the people who are empowered to perform legally required voter list maintenance. EagleAI NETwork™ enhances their efficiency and accuracy.”

Last year, activists flooded Georgia election offices with challenges to voters’ eligibility, tying up resources and making it harder for election officials to administer a smooth election.

The EagleAI program has connections to Cleta Mitchell, a conservative lawyer who aided Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn the election in Georgia and elsewhere. A special purpose grand jury in Fulton county recommended criminally charging Mitchell for her involvement in the scheme, but district attorney Fani Willis ultimately decided not to do so.

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“The left will hate this. They will hate it. But we love it,” Mitchell said during a March demonstration of the software that was reported by NBC News and the watchdog site Documented. The head of the North Carolina election integrity team, which is part of Mitchell’s Election Integrity Network, also said Mitchell was working on the national rollout, according to NBC.

Activists are pushing to expand the use of the software to Florida, Illinois, Iowa, Nevada, North Carolina and Texas, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and NBC News reported.

The push to adopt it comes as several Republican-led states have withdrawn from the Electronic Registration Information Center (Eric), an interstate consortium of more than two dozen states that identifies ineligible people on the rolls. The system has long attracted bipartisan praise for being a reliable way to maintain accurate voter rolls, but after the program became the target of conspiracy theories, Republicans began to withdraw. There is some concern among civil rights groups that if states were to replace Eric with a less developed system, it could cause chaos and confusion about voter rolls.

Georgia, however, remains a part of Eric and Brad Raffensperger, the secretary of state, has been a staunch defender of it. “Eric remains the only large-scale list maintenance tool available to identify voters who have moved out-of-state and anyone who might fraudulently vote in multiple Eric-member states in a general election,” he said in a September statement.

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