Some Tarrant County residents were alarmed when they received a postcard in the mail instructing them to go to a website to verify their vote in the most recent election.
But the names, dates of birth and addresses of registered voters have been public for decades in Texas, as has the information of voters in many other states, according to a National Conference of State Legislatures database.
In his 2015 book, “Hacking the Electorate,” Eitan Hersh, wrote that elected leaders who passed laws making voter information public had a conflict of interest because making voter information public helps them get re-elected.
For example, there’s an administrative need to know if a voter is over the age of 18 because that’s the age at which they’re eligible to vote, the associate professor at Tufts University said in an interview with the Fort Worth Report. However, he said, there’s no administrative need to know a voter’s date of birth.
“Once you have someone’s name and birthdate, now you can link their profile to all sorts of commercial data and again there’s not really, in my view, a big public interest in that data being made available to politicians and to campaign vendors and nonprofits, except if you believe that their ability to mobilize and micro-target is important for democracy. What I would say is it’s not just that the data happens to be available. It’s that the data is made strategically available,” Hersh said.
This is unlikely to change despite the postcard dust-up.
Since 2016, the Republican National Committee has paid a company more than $28 million for voter data, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. Democrats have also long used voter data to campaign and in 2019 announced they would better share data with each other through an outside entity they had created called the Democratic Data Exchange.
Tarrant County Elections continues to receive requests for voter data. It received 53 requests between May 18 to June 18, according to a public record request the Report made.
Grace Chimene, president of the League of Women Voters of Texas, and Anthony Gutierrez, executive director of Common Cause Texas, support voter information being made public. The problem with the postcard, they said, was that it seemed as if it was from election officials when it was not. Gutierrez said Common Cause Texas will try during the special legislative session next month to get passed a bill penalizing people for impersonating election officials.
“I just feel like in general for us this just falls under a really odd and dangerous thing we’re seeing nationally where our election administrators feel threatened, at the worst, and not appreciated, at the least. It’s important we try to do whatever we can to protect them,” Gutierrez said.