Recently, Fox13 reported on the fact that if you vote your personal voting information is sold by the Lieutenant Governor’s office for $1050 to anyone willing to pay that amount with no restrictions on use. Fox13 was turned on to this because one buyer has posted the entire list online at UTvoters.com:
But anyone who’s willing to pay $1,050 can buy this public record from the state, and there’s no Utah statute preventing a citizen from publishing the information. On UTvoters.com, many voters can see their cell phone numbers, address, full birthdates, political party affiliation and how many times they’ve voted… …Alciere said: “They can send in a request to remove their name if it’s that important to them, but it’s still public information: But what’s the point? Anyone can obtain the information.” Even if Tom removes you from his website, you’re still on the state’s list, which anyone can publish unless the law changes.
The online posting shows how much of your information is routinely disclosed, without your specific consent, by Herbert’s administration. Of course, the list is doesn’t contain some elite politicians’ information. They were fine taking care of themselves.
I am actually grateful to Mr. Alciere for exposing something that has been going on for years (likely, decades). I’ve known about the practice for a few years now and tracked Utah legislation aimed at protecting some of the information (all posts here). Back then, I noted how information on the list can be easily used to sort by birth date for any scammer to target the elderly or other data-mined group. Despite the very limited nature of the bills (only date of birth and email), then Lt. Governor, Greg Bell fought to stop the legislation as did both political parties, party elite, media interests, and political consultants. They went so far as to block all bills from one supporting Representative. Imagine what they would’ve done if the bills stopped all selling of the list?!
In response to the recent uproar, predictably, one Utah Senator has opted to play a shell game with voter information protection. She ensures that the list is still disclosed (without use/distribution restrictions) to everyone but a commercial interest. She’s protecting the political, media, and scholarly elite access. Anyone of these could still sell, share, or even post the list online if they want. Ironically, the legislature has crafted stricter disclosure laws for everyone else (see above link)…go figure.
I know the Republicans and Democrats want the information but they can get that in other, voluntary, ways. I also understand some groups want the information in order to provide election oversight (ie voter fraud etc). That, I get, but marketing, political consultants, and political parties’ data mining programs should certainly never trump my individual right to vote and to privacy. Period.
The logical solution is to make voters’ information private with an exception for election fraud oversight (with strict requirements on non-disclosure of personal information and correct protection/disposal of the list). Registrants could also be given the option to opt-in to disclose their information in general or to a specific party. “Opt-in” voters should also be able to opt-out later if they desire. Hopefully, this year, public attention will reject the shell game and allow logic to prevail.
So next time you get political junk mail from some unknown group or seemingly targeted scam call, think of the voter list and contact your State Senator and Representative. Politely remind them that being able to vote should never be contingent on giving up personal information to politically-favored groups.