On June 28, Washington’s secretary of state received a letter from President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity. The Commission requested, “...the publicly available voter roll data for Washington…”
Washingtonians and Pierce County voters can breathe a sigh of relief. This voter information is confidential, exempted from the Public Records Act, and will not be shared:
• Driver’s license number
• Social Security number (not even the last four digits)
• Phone number
• E-mail address
• Where/how you registered
• Language preference
• Party affiliation (not collected by election administrators)
That said, the commission’s request can’t be entirely ignored.
Washington leads the nation with its strong Public Records Act that favors access to government records. The Act compels state and local government to produce any records it prepares, owns, uses, or retains, upon request. Exemptions are very narrow and penalties for failing to comply range from $5 to $100 per day per record. With over four million voter records statewide, failing to comply could cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
Furthermore, state election law (RCW 29A.08.710) specifically directs that this basic voter information be made available:
• Date of birth
• Elections voter participated in
• Date of registration
• Voter registration number
Making this limited information available helps to ensure that people are properly registered and not registered twice. It is also widely used by campaigns and candidates to contact voters.
This basic information (name, address, birthday, gender) is accessed hundreds of times every year by news reporters, candidates, and advocacy groups. In other words, your basic information is public and already in use by political entities, including presidential candidates and political action committees.
Like anyone else seeking basic voter information, the Advisory Commission on Election Integrity has been directed to a link on the Office of Secretary of State’s website. And, like everyone else, the commission will complete a request form and then download the basic voter data (name, address, birthday, gender). Sensitive information, such as Social Security and driver’s license numbers, phone and email, is NOT included in that public data.
Basic voter information has little or no value in today’s information wars. Political parties are now sophisticated corporations that use direct marketing and big data. They covertly launch massive digital campaigns that target consumers (voters) using behavior and profile modeling. At best, campaigns target voters and persuade them to vote for Brand X. At worst, campaigns target likely supporters of Brand Y and discourage them from voting. That is the very definition of voter suppression.
If you’re concerned about privacy and voter suppression, focus on the intersection between politics and commercial data brokers such as Experian, LexisNexis, and DataLogix (just to name a few). They accumulate thousands of data points on you, using vast amounts of peripheral data. The information comes from credit card purchase histories, Internet accounts, and each click you make on social media. Politicians and their operatives want to know about your behavior, preferences, and interests, not your basic voter information.
To those discouraged voters who want to “opt out” of the election process, I beg you instead to opt out of data mining companies, not your voter registration. Visit websites such as StopDataMining.me to learn what kinds of information data brokers have and how to exercise your opt-out choices. And take the time to learn about privacy protection when you use your computer or device.
Please stand strong. Be a Pierce County voter and a smart consumer. Together, we can protect your privacy and the integrity of America’s elections.