One of the secrets of the election world is how readily available voter data can be—and it’s been making headlines lately. In late 2015, information such as name, address, party, and voting history relating to approximately 191 million voters was published online. And recently, the presidential campaign of Texas Senator Ted Cruz came under fire for a mailer in Iowa that used voter data to assign grades to voters and compared them to neighbors to motivate turnout. Voter records have always been public information, but now it’s being used in new ways. Here are some key facts you need to know about the privacy (or lack of privacy) of voter information. All 50 states and the District of Columbia provide access to voter information, according to the U.S. Elections Projectrun by Dr. Michael McDonald at the University of Florida; but as with everything related to elections there are 51 different variations on what information is provided, who can access it, and how much it costs to get it.
Generally, all states provide the name and address of the registered voter. From there it gets complicated. Some states have statutory limitations on what information is available. At least 25 states limit access to social security numbers, date of birth or other identifying factors such as a driver’s license number. Ten states limit the contact information, such as a telephone number or email address. Nine states include miscellaneous information like place of birth, voter identification numbers, race, gender, secondary addresses, accommodations to vote and signatures on the list of exemptions for the voter file. Texas specifically restricts the residential address of any judge in the state.
While, there are 13 states that have no codified restrictions on the information available to the public, the secretary of state may have the ability to limit information. Six states have a general prohibition on “information of a personal nature” or information related to matters of individual safety that pertain to voter records as well as all other state records.
Every state except Rhode Island as well as the District of Columbia also provide information about voter history —not who a person voted for but just if they voted (Rhode Island does not provide access to that information). Absentee voting information—ballot requests or permanent absentee lists—are also available, sometimes for an extra fee and sometimes only through municipalities or local jurisdictions. At least five states do not offer absentee voting data as part of the available voter file.
Full Article: The Canvass | February 2016.