Keep on voting, but be smart with private data

Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.
Pierce County Auditor Julie Anderson.

On June 28, Washington’s Secretary of State received a letter from President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity, requesting “the publicly available voter roll data for Washington.”

Washingtonians and Pierce County voters can breathe a sigh of relief.

Confidential information exempted from the Public Records Act will not be shared, including driver’s license number, Social Security number (not even the last four digits), phone number, email address, language preference and party affiliation (we don’t even collect party affiliations.)

That said, the commission’s request can’t be entirely ignored. Washington’s strong Public Records Act compels state and local governments to produce any records it prepares, owns, uses or retains, upon request.

With over four million voter records statewide, failing to comply could cost state taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars in penalties.

State election law specifically directs that certain basic voter information be made available: name, address, voting district, date of birth, elections that a voter has participated in, date of registration and voter registration number.

Making this limited information available helps ensure people are properly registered. It is also widely used by campaigns and candidates to contact voters.

Such information is accessed hundreds of times every year by news reporters, candidates and advocacy groups. In other words, your basic information is public and already used by political entities, including presidential candidates and political action committees.

Like anyone else seeking basic voter information, Trump’s election commission has been directed to a link on the Secretary of State’s website. And, like everyone else, the commission will complete a request form and then download the basic voter information – not sensitive information such as social security and driver’s license numbers.

Basic voter information has little or no value in today’s information wars. Political parties are now sophisticated corporations that use direct marketing and big data. They covertly launch massive digital campaigns that target consumers (voters) using behavior and profile modeling.

At best, campaigns target voters and persuade them to vote for Brand X. At worst, campaigns target likely supporters of Brand Y and discourage them from voting. That is the very definition of voter suppression.

If you’re concerned about privacy and voter suppression, focus on the intersection between politics and commercial data brokers such as Experian, LexisNexis and DataLogix (just to name a few).

They accumulate thousands of data points on you, using vast amounts of peripheral data. The information comes from credit card purchase histories, internet accounts and each click you make on social media.

Politicians and their operatives want to know about your behavior, preferences and interests, not your basic voter information.

To any discouraged voters who want to “opt out” of the election process, I beg you instead to opt out of data-mining companies.

Visit websites such as StopDataMining.me to learn what kinds of information data brokers have and how to exercise your opt-out choices. Take time to learn about privacy protection when you use your computer or device.

Please stand strong. Be a Pierce County voter and a smart consumer. Together, we can protect your privacy and the integrity of America’s elections.

Julie Anderson is the Pierce County Auditor. Reach her by email at Julie.Anderson@co.pierce.wa.us