Monday, February 6, 2012

More states collecting voter email addresses, providing to campaigns

According to a new report by Fox News, 19 states and the District of Columbia are now collecting email addresses from voters and providing those addresses along with other personal data to political campaigns. The number of states collecting emails has increased from just two in 2002, when the California Voter Foundation examined all 50 states' voter registration forms for our landmark 2004 study, "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age".

The Fox News story, by Kathleen Foster is available online, in both print and video. Excerpts are featured below.
Richard Michael, an Internet campaign advisor at in Los Angeles, said email addresses "are fair game, no matter how you get them." 
"If someone puts their email on a voter registration, it's reasonable to assume they are amenable to receiving political messages," Michael said. 
Like phone numbers, email addresses are not required to register to vote anywhere in the United States. Giving the information is optional, but that may not be clear to the average voter. 
"I think this is really one of those untold stories. It's all going on behind the scenes," said Kim Alexander, president of The California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization which produced the study "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age." 
"People who are in the election business, people who are administrators, people who are in campaigns, they all know what's going on. The voters are in the dark, and that has got to change. It's disrespectful and it's deceitful," said Alexander. 
In 2008, Alexander helped redesign California's voter registration card to clearly mark the word "optional" in the form's email field. 
Eight of the states that collect emails fail to clearly mark the information as "optional" on their registration forms. Not one of the states that sells email addresses clearly explains on the voter form that emails could or would be sold. 
"Long before the Internet came along, long before identity theft became an issue, campaigns have been collecting data on voters and creating voter profiles," Alexander said. "Campaigns use this so they can target their messages more effectively to voters -- to say these people are environmentalists, these people support gun rights. They will often merge voter data with other data to create profiles to help them more precisely target their message to particular voters." 
Personal information about registered voters can be invaluable information to campaigns, but selling it is not a big moneymaker for states. 
A few states make it available for free, considering it a matter of public record. Some sell a statewide list of every voters' name, address and date of birth for as little as $25. Others offer regularly updated subscriptions for $5,000 per year. The most expensive statewide list Fox News found is in Wisconsin, at $12,500, which includes emails. 
Except for Iowa and Oregon, which charge a nominal extra fee, most states that sell email addresses include them in the price of a basic voter roll.