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Tag: Voter Privacy

I Know What You Did Last Summer: Signed a Petition in Washington

Last year, female Facebook users around the world updated their status messages with their bra color.  Version 2.0 of this breast cancer awareness marketing strategy ran this year.  Perhaps some things should be kept private.  But what about our politics?  As vast amounts of information goes digital – from individual campaign contributions to the personal communications of our officials – traditional notions of privacy are giving way to an era of sunshine in all aspects of our lives.

Enter (from stage right) Tim Eyman, a veteran ballot initiative activist in the state of Washington.  If state-wide ballot initiatives create a de facto citizen legislature, then Eyman is the conservative Washington citizen’s whip.  To get an idea on the ballot, initiative supporters must sign petitions, and give such information as their home addresses to verify they’re eligible to sign. Continue reading

Weekly Wrap Up

Every week, State of Elections brings you the latest news in election law

– On Wednesday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Doe v. Reed.  The plaintiffs argue that Washington’s Public Records Act, which makes the names of signatories to ballot initiatives a matter of public record, should be declared unconstitutional .  Members of a group called “Protect Marriage Washington”, who submitted petitions for a referendum to repeal Washington’s domestic partnership laws, have asked for an injunction against the publication of their names.  The signatories fear harassment from gay marriage proponents should their names be published, as required under the Public Records Act. Here’s a transcript of the oral arguments.

– The Supreme Court of New Jersey has agreed to hear a case involving an attempt by a Tea Party organization to recall Senator Robert Menendez.  The New Jersey constitution allows Senators to be recalled, but the U.S. Constitution is silent on the issue.  The appeals court previously ruled in favor of the Tea Party and allowed their recall efforts to continue.

– Merced County in California is seeking to remove itself from the restrictions of Section 5 of the Voting Rights ActSection 5 requires that certain states and municipalities “preclear” changes to their voting laws with the Attorney General.  Only four counties in California are subject to the additional restrictions imposed by Section 5.

– Here’s a very odd story out of Orange County California.  According to a local newspaper, dozens of voters were allegedly tricked into registering as Republicans.  Members of the Republican Party supposedly tricked passersby into thinking they were signing petitions for liberal causes, like legalizing marijuana, when they were actually signing voter registration forms that identified them as Republicans.  The California Republican Party offers an $8 dollar bounty for every new Republican registration, which apparently inspired this latest attempt to trick voters into registering as Republicans.

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Know Campaign Update

In January, we brought you a piece about the Know Campaign and the privacy of your voting history. This post is an update on the lawsuit and changes to the statute:

Here’s a quick rundown of the situation: a non-profit wants to increase voter turnout by telling neighbors who voted in which election. Studies show that it would work. Turns out, only candidates and parties can legally get access to that information (the reality is another thing…). Virginia’s State Board of Elections tells the non profit to stop and they do. Then the non-profit sues b/c the voter history list should be open to all or closed to all.

Two weeks ago the lawsuit was dismissed in the Richmond Circuit Court. According to Bill Sizemore of the Pilot, a settlement was reached, though the group promised to re-file the suit if the law wasn’t changed to allow wider access to the information.

But there’s no guarantee that the changes to the statute will include wider access to the list. A legislative subcommittee has recommended that the list be closed to everyone, according to the Times-Dispatch’s Tyler Whitely. A list closed to everyone means that even candidates wouldn’t have access to a voter’s history either.

To legislators who want to save stamps or avoid knocking on the doors of their unpersuadable neighbors – this would be a huge problem. Campaigns already cost plenty, and according to some legislators this would drive up the cost of their races.

On the flip side of candidate convenience is voter privacy. While at first blush this may sound like the fox guarding the hen house, remember there are plenty of privacy advocates in the Virginia legislature who don’t have regular, expensive races to keep their seats.

The legislative session should end soon, so we’ll have an answer about what the elected officials think on this issue. The next move will be the Know Campaign’s.

Brian Cannon is President of the William & Mary Election Law Society

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Voter Privacy and the Know Campaign

I get tons of political mail.  Most of it I don’t read – after all, it contains little useful information.  But if someone mailed me this, it would surely catch my eye:

political-campaign-mail“Below is a partial list of your recent voting history — public information obtained from the Virginia State Board of Elections…We have sent you this information as a public service because we believe that democracy only works when you vote.”

What if this mailing also contained information about my neighbor’s voting history in order for me to encourage/shame him into voting in the upcoming election?

This is exactly what the Know Campaign in Virginia sought to do this election cycle before legal action stopped them in their tracks.  To read more about that, check out the Washington Post’s story here.  The Know Campaign’s press release that started all of the excitement is here. Continue reading

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