Give me your name, city, and state, and I can probably get your home address in less than an hour *if you vote.* Any information you include on your voter registration form, can be had by any member of the public, for free, at your local courthouse in most states. The reasoning for this is the public’s right to know outweighs the individual’s right to privacy. This rule is prevalent across America. Voter registration information is considered “public information.” You are told you must give your *home* address for voter registration, so that you are registered within the correct precinct. Yet nowhere, on *any* voter registration forms I have seen, or on *any* website I have visited related to voting, have I seen a highlighted warning to voters about *voting registration information becoming public* from then on. Some states even require social security numbers to register to vote, which then go public. No one I have run across is actively trying to get the word out that your voter registration information may very well all be public now. Everyone is so caught up in the voter registration frenzy, while some very basic and dangerous voter registration flaws are being overlooked.
The way I found out voter registration information was freely available to the public was by working in a private detective’s office in Seattle, Wa. When this spy (who is currently advertised on the City of Seattle’s website) could not find a current address for someone she was paid to spy on, she would send a worker to the King County courthouse to look up their voting records, to get their home address right way. Knowing this, I have been through a maze of public agencies for years, trying to find a way to vote, without giving my home address, as well as other personal information, out to the public. Since 1991, in Washington State, approximately 1,700 people have made it through the state’s tiresome intake into the “Address Confidentiality Program” (ACP), as a documented victim of domestic violence. But the rest of Washington’s voters’ registration information is public, and up for grabs by anyone.
As a controversial political voice for decades now, I have not wanted to hand out my home address, etc. the way elections officials demand I do, for the right to vote. When people insisted this Seattle spy give her home address for something, this spy would simply then give the street address of the post office her P.O. Box was located in. And then a number, after it, as if it was an apartment number. For instance, if she had P.O.Box 4505 at a post office located at 90000 University Way, Seattle, Wa, and was forced to use a home address, she would list her home address as 90000 University Way, #4505, Seattle, Wa. But not having a P.O.Box, and wondering what my options were besides that, as that seems deceitful, I looked for more options. When I called the King County Elections Department, to try to find out what my options were, I ran into operators who assured me my voter registration information was confidential! Knowing full well that was simply incorrect, due to my direct experience with the spy office, I called the local elections department many times over the last 3 years to try to sort out my options, but reality seems pretty clear here. I have to choose: Keep my home address and personal information confidential or vote. I cannot have both.
Often when you first try to talk to your local voter/elections department operators about this problem, many of the operators will literally deny that your information is open to the public. This is usually due to their own ignorance. A small number of places have addressed this issue, and protected voter registration information from the public domain. But it is more common for voter registration information to be public, than not. Voter registration forms, in some states, require your social security number, birth date, and driver’s license number, as well as your home address and phone number. The one exception to your information going public through voter registration (short of the few confidentiality statutes in effect) appears to be these state “Address Confidentiality Programs” (ACP’s) for victims of domestic violence.
I can testify that I asked about *just such a thing,* and argued many times, with King County Elections operators, about the need for such a thing, and not until just recently, was I finally informed there *is* such a program in existence in Washington. So, even if you call the elections departments, workers there can say there is not such program, unfortunately, even if such a program *does* in fact exist. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures ( http://www.ncsl.org/programs/cyf/dvsurvive.htm), 15 states have passed statutes to enable address confidentiality programs to voters: California, Illinois, Florida, Indiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Nebraska, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington state. The stated purpose of the Wa. ACP is “to help crime victims (specifically domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking) stay safe. ACP is designed to prevent offenders from using state and local government records to locate their victims.” Yet there is no provision in place to stop private detectives, for example, from stalking the general public with this information.
The first Address Confidentiality Program was created in Washington state in 1991. This is a relatively new system, and Washington State’s ACP, run by the Secretary of State, currently has a “three person office,” according to a worker there named Norma, on Sept. 16, 2004. Washington state, among others, runs its confidentiality program through the Secretary of State’s office, but other states run their programs through the Attorney General’s offices. Most of the programs work like this: a post office box in the state’s capital, is assigned to the voter, who is in the address confidentiality program. This is her “dummy” address. The elections department then sends her an absentee ballot to the post office box, which then is forwarded to her at a confidential address. These addresses are exempt from the state voter registry records while in the address confidentiality program as well.
From what I can gather, *only* survivors of domestic violence or sexual assault may apply for these programs. There are very strict guidelines as to who can use this program, and how you must proceed for intake into the program. You must be interviewed and processed in quite a laborious fashion typical of anything the state runs. To participate in the ACP in WA. state (1-800-822-1065), you must be “a survivor of sexual assault, domestic violence or stalking, a resident of the State of Washington, and must have recently moved to a location unknown to your abuser and unknown to government agencies.” On Sept. 16, 2004, I was told to apply for the address confidentiality program, a person would need to start by calling a “victims’ advocate.” And their website ( http://www.secstate.wa.gov/acp/) clearly says the intake involves the following: “Call the program to make an appointment. Explain that you want to meet with a counselor to talk about what you can do to stay safe. It’s a good idea to take the following items with you to this meeting: 1) positive proof of your identity, including picture ID, and 2) documents substantiating your efforts to deter your abuser (protective order, police report, etc). Each of the listed local programs has an ACP orientation video you can watch for more information. Your advocate will do a risk assessment, help you develop a safety plan and work with you to decide if the ACP should be part of that safety plan.” It began to look like getting the address confidentiality program enacted through governmental red tape would just deter domestic violence victims from voting. I certainly do not expect women with young children to drag them on buses, to go to some social workers’ office to make a “safety plan” and be forced to watch videos, just to ask for help to get her address out of the public, just so she can vote. And if you expect women to do that, you are foolish. If everyone had to go through that intake above, just to vote, voting numbers would plummet dramatically.
The topic of social security number privacy with regards to voter registration forms is also a hot topic. On October 29, 2002, President Bush signed H.R. 3295, the “Help America Vote Act of 2002.” That bill has provisions addressing the use of social security numbers with regards to voter registration, among other things. But it has some suspicious wording that I cannot properly interpret. Many *states* have passed laws though, allowing the masking of social security numbers from the voter registration information available for public viewing. Some states are working on the overall confidentiality issue, as well. Confidentiality laws passed in 1995 in California have ruled voter information is considered confidential, yet they allow exceptions when the information is being collected for: “Direct election campaigning,” “Surveys in conjunction with an election campaign,” and “Distribution of information of a political nature.” The public viewing terminals to look up voter registration in San Jose, Ca., for example, will not reveal the voter’s residential street address, telephone number, precinct number, occupation, or driver’s license number.
It almost seems the government is hiding the fact that voter registration information is public information. They do not do promotions to educate the public about this. They do not highlight that information *anywhere* that a normal voter would stumble upon it. For instance in Seattle, if you went to the King County Elections website today, on Sept 16, 2004, at 10 AM, you would find *no mention whatsoever* of the ACP. The link that goes to the Secretary of State’s website from the King County Elections’ site, mentions *nothing* about the ACP program, thus someone looking for that program would skip the essential link on the King County website to take them to the state’s website with that information. (Maybe this article will clean some of that up). And when I asked Norma at the Secretary of State’s office why this program was never announced to the public, she said they hide the program for the safety of the program’s participants. But I have to say, they are also effectively hiding the program from victims who need it, if only approximately 1,700 have enrolled in the program in almost 15 years.
So where does *your* state stand on your personal information and your voting rights? Can anyone look up your date of birth, your social security number, your home address and phone number, and your driver’s license number right now, today, for free, because you registered to vote? Were you informed of this situation when you registered to vote? Do you think you should have been informed of this prior to signing the voter registration materials? Do you feel you have to choose between voting or giving out personal information to the public, now that you know this information? Is that a choice people should have to make? Should victims of domestic violence go through a social service intake just to vote safely? Who is looking up, and using, your public voter registration information? Do you even know?
If you try to figure out where your personal voter registration stands as far as privacy, expect headaches, hassles and incompetent workers. I have wasted many hours over many years on this topic and have heard all kinds of misinformation from workers at my local elections office. I told the King County Elections “communications specialist,” Bobbie Egan, on Sept. 16, 2004, that I have not been able to figure out how to vote and still protect my privacy, as I am in a profession that is involved in controversy and I just do not want to hand out my home address like that. I said I was really angry that no one is answering my questions and telling me how to navigate around this roadblock to voting. She then said, “I’m sorry if you’ve called the wrong people.” Right. That is it. Me calling the elections offices and hitting brick walls of incompetence was *me* being the dumb idiot. Obviously, you call the Secretary of State about local voting issues, not the local elections office. Dumb me. Do not expect local governmental agencies to want to talk to you about this important issue. They seem to be really bent on sweeping this thing under the rug, if at all possible. They will play semantics with you. But I think people need to have Informed Consent regarding voter registration information and confidentiality. I do not feel states are being forthcoming with this information. I feel it is time the public demanded a warning on all voter registration materials with regards to the lack of confidentiality of the information given on most voter registration forms. And it is long overdue that the citizens of every state address this issue of having to choose: confidentiality and personal safety versus voting. It is my free right to choose between those two, my local elections office says. But it is a choice I should not have to make.