Why Should We Have To Give Up Privacy by Simply Registering to Vote?

After a discussion with a friend who’s quite concerned about voting rights, I decided to take a look at what voting data was available.  Depending on which side of the issue you are on, you probably think that voter fraud is the most important issue and under reported or you think that voter suppression is the most important issue and under reported.  A lot of discussions about voting get stuck on these points so I was interested in looking at the data and perhaps somehow determining for myself the magnitude of “voter fraud” and “voter suppression.”

I searched for a few voting terms and ended up at the North Carolina Board of Elections web site. I went to the Data & Stats section and was pretty horrified by what I found.

There are several zip files that are freely downloadable anonymously which contain almost every piece of voter registration data and voting history for every registered voter going back over 20 years.  This includes voter affiliation changes, which ballot you used to vote in the primaries, whether you voted early, regular, or absentee in every election, your mailing address, your age, your race and gender, your phone number – basically EVERYTHING associated with your voting history for 20 years EXCEPT what boxes you ended up checking on the ballot.

Here’s a list of things that you can easily do without logging in or paying any fee – just by simply downloading a couple files:

  • The party affiliation of anyone
  • When and how anyone changed their party affiliation for the last 20+ years
  • Whether someone voted or not in each election over the past 20+ years
  • What ballot someone used in each election for the past 20+ years
  • Using street names, look up how your neighbors’ affiliation and whether they’ve voted in recent elections

With a little work you could create a list of people in your town that didn’t vote in the last election or who recently changed party affiliation. You could easily include their address, age, phone number, gender, and race.  All this can be done by anyone who has access to the internet from anywhere in the world.

Here’s one example in Pennsylvania where a shady political group sent mailings to registered voters who failed to vote in the last election with a threat of a followup so that “you and your friends, your neighbors, and other people you know will all know who voted and who did not vote.”

Why do we have to give up this much privacy just to register to vote?

How many people would be less likely to register to vote if they knew they were giving up this much privacy to do so?

Imagine if private companies treated their customer data as carelessly as this.

The best reason I can come up with to support this invasion of privacy is to ensure transparency and therefore faith in our democracy.  The current status quo seems to go far beyond what would be required to fulfill that standard though.