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Voting and Your Privacy

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Today many Americans will flock to the polls to vote in the mid-term election. There is a lot more at stake than just who you vote for and who ends up in office. What many do not realize is that their personal data is at stake even though their vote is “anonymous”.

The right to an anonymous vote is part of the U.S. democratic process. Yet when someone registers to vote, their voter registration record may be considered public record, and available to a variety of individuals or groups. Long before you walk into a voting booth, you may have received phone calls asking who you plan to vote for, texts promoting a candidate, and even when you apply for a driver’s license you are asked your political leanings. Voting records are not private and this includes, name, address, phone number and sometimes even whether you voted or not.

If this isn’t bad enough, political campaigns have been compiling, sharing, buying, and selling voter lists for decades. Third-party list brokers are compiling and selling your information, and email addresses are shared among candidates. Respecting users’ right to privacy requires thoughtful consideration of how data is used, collected, stored, deleted, and retained. Information safeguards or data security include procedures, practices, and technology for keeping sensitive data safe. The strictness and uniformity with which data privacy rules and regulations are enforced might vary significantly from one jurisdiction to the next.

In 2019, Senator Diane Feinstein of California introduced the Voter Privacy Act of 2019 to amend the Federal Election Campaign Act of 1971 to ensure privacy with respect to voter information. It never passed.

How to protect yourself

There is no easy answer to how to keep your data private. Sure, you can not vote but it is a constitutional right to engage in the political process so privacy must be addressed. Though many states have Address Confidentiality Programs (ACPs), many have challenges controlling this data, so there is no privacy guarantee.

For a detailed look at voter registration privacy protections in any state, check out the National Conference of State Legislatures’ Access To and Use of Voter Registration Lists Report.

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