Long a staple of election year politics, a direct-mail piece that was delivered to the mailboxes of people in 19 states has fueled worries over invasions of privacy.
Americans for Limited Government, a self-described non-partisan group created to advance what it described as core American liberties, sent a mailing titled “Vote Audit History” to 2.7 million people. Many Wayne Countians received the vote audit. Whether a person votes is public record. ALG did not obtain the voting information from the Wayne County Clerk’s office, according to County Clerk Alan Lutes.
“I have received one call so far and one in-person complaint when I was at Clearwater School Friday morning,” Lutes said. “Both were very upset and felt violated. One has even requested that her name be taken off of the voter registration list.”
The letters contain a notice number, a notice date, and the voter’s name.
“Thank you for your dedication in past presidential elections,” reads the letter. “Our American democracy is stronger because of civic-minded citizens like you. We have conducted an audit of public voting records in your neighborhood, and wanted to present you with findings of past civic participation in your community.”
The vote history audit then lists the recipient’s name, mailing address and if they voted in 2004 and 2008. It also lists the names, addresses, and voting history of six of the recipients’ neighbors.
The mailer does not name the voter’s choice in the past two elections because ballots are secret. Whether or not someone voted, however, is public record.
“The organization did not request any record from my office,” Lutes said. “The problem is that the information that I see on the letters is public record, but these type of letters and violations of privacy need to be stopped.”
Several county clerks in Missouri have reported the organization to the Secretary of State’s office because voters “feel violated” when they receive the information.
“I, too, have notified the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office about the letters for the same reason,” Lutes said. “They are aware of the letters and have received many complaints from county clerks. They are compiling a list of people’s names that are receiving these letters and are complaining about them.”
“I would like to request that all voters in Wayne County that received a letter and are unhappy about the letter please call or email my office (email@example.com) with their name and voice their complaint. I will then forward the list on to the Missouri Secretary of State’s Office so that we can all work together to try to get these violating letters stopped. I want to work with our citizens to get this type of use of public information stopped.”
Charlene Waller said she felt violated and does not plan to ever vote again. She feels her privacy has been violated.
Lutes said people aren’t outraged receiving their own voter history. They are upset that people do not feel it is any of their business whether their neighbors voted or not. They also do not feel their information should have been shared with neighbors.
According to the Center for Responsible Politics, a watchdog organization, Americans for Limited Government is a non-profit conservative group that generally opposes Democratic candidates.
ALG spent $1 million opposing candidates in the 2010 congressional elections, but its contributors’ identities are shielded by a Supreme Court ruling that was based on free speech.
The brochures say ALG will follow up with another mailing after the election.
“As a further service, we will be updating our records after . . . the Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2012, election. We will then send an updated vote history audit to you and your neighbors with the results,” the ALG brochure states.
In some states, people have reported that information in the “audit” was incorrect.
“We firmly believe that people who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in selecting our leaders are abandoning not just their right to a say but are diminishing everyone’s rights,” said Richard Manning, a communications director for Americans for Limited Government. “We all need to express our views.”
Asked about whether some mailings had listed incorrect voting records, Manning said, “An extremely small percentage had entry errors.”
Though the information the group obtained for the mailing is a public record, elections officials and political analysts were surprised by how it was used.