Time to get out your deerstalker hat. Somewhere out there is a publicly available database with approximately 191 million voting records, with details like names, birthdates, addresses, phone numbers, and political party affiliation. The problem? Nobody knows who owns the database, who set it up, how it got online, or why its information is public. According to CSO, which first reported on the story after being alerted to its existence by researcher Chris Vickery, it’s likely that the information in the database came from the political data firm NationBuilder, but it’s not necessarily the company’s fault that the information is live. A customer possibly purchased this information and made it public, but it’s unclear if they did so on purpose or by mistake. “NationBuilder is under no obligation to identify customers, and once the data has been obtained, they cannot control what happens to it,” writes CSO’s Steve Ragan. “In short, while they provided the data that’s in my newly leaked voter record, they’re not liable in any way for it being exposed.”
In a statement, NationBuilder founder and CEO Jim Gilliam said “the voter information included is already publicly available from each state government so no new or private information was released in this database.”
“We strongly believe in making voter information more accessible to political campaigns and advocacy groups, so we provide cleaned versions of that publicly accessible information to them for free,” Gilliam said. “We do not provide access to anyone for non-political purposes or that would violate any state’s laws. Each state has different restrictions, and we make sure that each campaign understands those restrictions before providing them with any data. It is vital that everyone running for office knows who is registered to vote in their district.”
As PCMag explained in our review of NationBuilder, the service is a cross between a content management system and customer relationship management package. An Election add-on lets you import voter files from the NationBuilder Election Center from the U.S., Canada, and the UK. That way you can tell whether a member in your database is a registered voter, and if not, send them a nudge.