HARTFORD, CT —One of the many subjects up for debate Monday was legislation that would limit the release of voter registration data to candidates and political parties.
The Government Administration and Elections Committee held a public hearing on the bill that would prohibit the release of the information in the statewide voter database to commercial entities and news organizations, but would still allow political parties and campaigns to obtain the information and use it to produce mailers like the one above.
Rep. Fred Camillo, R-Greenwich, said he introduced the bill along with Rep Brenda Kupchick, R-Farifield, because currently available information, such as date of birth and address, makes it easy “to steal one’s identity.”
He and Kupchick both said the bill would also prevent the voter list from being sold commercially.
“I have received countless phone calls and emails from constituents who are upset because their voter data is online with all their private information for the world to see,” Camillo said. “In today’s society where identity theft is prevalent, I think we have a responsibility to safeguard our constituents’ information.”
Under freedom of information laws, the state is required to make public all voter registrations and the information included on them. In addition, the state sells a database of the information to candidates, political parties, and commercial entities for $300.
The same information in Arizona is sold for $2,500.
Sue Larsen, president of the Registrar of Voters Association of Connecticut, suggested making the voter list cost prohibitive so that the cost of the information outweighs the desire of people to obtain it.
“Many complaints recently have stemmed from phone calls informing the voter when they last voted or when their neighbors last voted, “Larsen said. “There is data that campaigns use like voter history but why other groups need the information is more questionable.”
No one seems to be complaining they received a credit card solicitation in the mail that may have been generated from the database, Michael Savino, president of the Connecticut Council for Freedom of Information, said.
He said restricting the use of the data to political parties and campaigns is likely illegal.
“HB 7392, as written, appears to be an effort to preserve privacy by limiting the sale of voter data and prohibiting the use of this information for the use of solicitation. Yet the proposal doesn’t evenly apply this rule. Political candidates, candidate committees, and political committees would still be able to purchase this information, presumably for the purpose of electioneering,” Savino said.
Savino said that Hawaii’s state legislature adopted into law a similar piece of legislation in the mid-1990s and in Donrey Media Group v. Ikeda, a federal judge struck down the law on the grounds that it violated both the Hawaii and U.S. constitutions.
Camillo said that he’s “been told by many, that they refuse to register to vote because they do not want to have their information sold and end up online. Anyone who registers to vote should not be afraid that their private information will end up on a website and their identity compromised.”
Southport resident Hillary Long started the website ctvoterprivacy.org to try and gather support for the legislation.
She testified before the committee Monday, saying she has spoken to many voters at polling places “and all were very upset that their voter information was public and that the state of Connecticut was responsible for selling their personal data.”
“They felt violated,” Long told the committee.
Long told the committee that they “talked about the importance of encouraging people to vote but currently many people will not vote because they want to keep their information private.”
She added: “Open to identity theft, harassment, stalking, doxxing and discrimination, Connecticut residents endure the hardships of having their name, cell/home phone, address, age, political party, and voting history available to all on the web.”
Asked by Rep. Matt Blumenthal, D-Stamford, if she knew of any examples of people being victimized by their names being on the voting rolls, Long said one person told her that they believe their grandfather became a victim of wire fraud because his name was acquired through voter rolls.
The bill’s concept isn’t new. Secretary of the State Denise Merrill introduced similar legislation last year that would have eliminated the day and month of birth from the public portion of the voter rolls. It would have kept the birth year, but the legislation died on the House calendar.
Savino said the organization “strongly opposes” the bill.”
He told the committee one of the news media’s responsibility as a community’s watchdog would be compromised if the legislation went forward.
“Former state Rep. Christina Ayala’s voter fraud in Bridgeport was discovered and resulted in criminal charges. The wrongdoing was first discovered and exposed by the media, in this case the Connecticut Post, relying on public records that include voter registration information,” Savino said.
“Catching and punishing Ayala and others acting in a similar manner is critical to ensuring trust in our democracy.”
Savino said CCFOI’s objection “isn’t just based on principle. We have serious questions about whether a bill like this, even would modifications, would be legal.”