WHO CAN ACCESS PERSONAL VOTER INFORMATION AFTER AN ELECTION

Voter Information

Undisputed Legal | Process Service 

Attorney General Josh Shapiro of Pennsylvania has declared that his office intends to sue Senate Republicans to prevent officials from subpoenaing voter information. The complaint essentially centers around the fact that the subpoena sought to reveal the personal information of nine million Pennsylvania residents and violate the state constitution’s right to informational privacy.

CASE BACKGROUND

After Republicans on a state Senate committee overseeing the review issued a subpoena in the month of September to Veronica Degraffenreid, who is the acting head of Pennsylvania’s Department of State, the Attorney General filed for the suit against the involved parties. Senators Chris Dush, Jake Corman, and the Senate Intergovernmental Operations Committee spurred the subpoena process, having necessitated the name, date of birth, partial Social Security number, and driver’s license number of every Pennsylvanian who voted in the 2020 presidential election as part of a ‘forensic investigation’ of the election. Additionally, they desired to establish how each registered voter voted and whenever every registered voter cast ballots. 

The senators justified their appeal by citing worries about the election’s integrity. The Attorney General’s Office responded by filing a complaint in the Commonwealth Court of Pennsylvania on behalf of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, the Department of State, and Acting Secretary Veronica Degraffenreid. 

The Attorney General’s complaint hinges upon the premier basis that the committee’s worries about potential election integrity violations are founded on misleading, prejudiced claims. Additionally, the complaint asserts that disclosing the personal information of so many voters poses a significant danger, particularly given the committee’s failure to establish necessary security measures to safeguard the data from third-party businesses.

The 2020 presidential election and the state’s voting procedures and standards have been challenged in Pennsylvania. In April, the US Supreme Court threw out Pennsylvania’s last challenge to the validity of the 2020 presidential election. An argument was made in Bognet v. Degraffenreid that voting rules may only be established by states legislatures, and thus, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to extend Pennsylvania’s deadline for accepting mail-in votes was invalid. Fourteen Republican state legislators filed a lawsuit at the beginning of September contesting Act 77, which established in Pennsylvania universal mail-in voting in October 2019 as unconstitutional. 

Shapiro’s office urged the court to reject the subpoena citing Trump’s attempts to undermine confidence in the outcomes of the 2020 presidential election are underpinning the same and it serves no valid legislative purpose.

HOW PRIVATE IS VOTER INFORMATION?

One thing is universally private: just how people voted. Ballots are also always kept private.

Most voter data is generally public. It is gathered for the public, not private, reasons, and does not really have an opt-out provision for disseminating this material. Voter records may contain facts about individuals, which could be [A.] name; [B.] street address [C.] party affiliation; [D.] previous voting history of the individual; [E.] phone number and email address

Voter data from all fifty states will inevitably be accessible for certain purposes, even if the laws vary from state to state.  Voter data may be utilized for issue politics, charity solicitation, and commercial marketing in many states since there are no limitations on how they may be used.

Voter data records, on the other hand, are really not readily available to the general public. It takes a certain amount of know-how to approach governments for data, even if it is only to make the request. The GOP Data Center and NGP VAN, both of which provide accessible data for Republican and Democratic campaigns, are examples of these types of organizations. These experts simplify the job of political campaigns. The efficient use of the voter database was crucial to the Obama Administration for America campaigns in 2008 and 2012.

Vendors of voter data do not want their databases to be released to the public. Commercial enterprises use publicly accessible government information about who is registered to vote and who has cast votes in previous elections to build these computerized databases, often referred to as ‘voter files.’ They provide not only a statewide snapshot of voter registration and turnout, but they also often incorporate data from other sources.  In order to make the data accessible to their customers rather than hackers, it is thus imperative for these businesses to make an investment in getting it structured. However, data transfer may be difficult to regulate.

STATE VOTING RECORDS AND THE INFORMATION THEY PRESERVE

All states provide political parties and candidates for public office some level of access to voter registration data. For example, voter information may be shared with local and state authorities as well as private companies as well as researchers, and the media in the event of a scandal. Depending on state laws, only some people have access to public documents. Only state residents, registered voters, non-profit organizations and researchers may have access to some information. Most states, on the other hand, let the public see certain information about who is registered to vote. This information typically includes the voter’s present address, which many survivors value for privacy and safety reasons.

Every state provides a mechanism for voters to verify their registration status in addition to sharing or selling voter data. In order to do these status checks, it would be as easy as typing in a name and zip code in the box provided. When a voter’s status is checked, the entire current address is shown. Survivors of abuse, whose safety may be jeopardized if their abuser discovers their current whereabouts and can estimate their zip code, may find this readily available status checks frightening.

Additionally, the mechanism itself does not correlate across state borders. In the first place, vendors differ in terms of how they monitor citizens when they traverse state lines. While federal law (the Help America Vote Act of 2002) mandates that each state maintain a list of its registered voters, election administration in the United States has traditionally been extremely decentralized, making it difficult to harmonize state data.

Data brokers that gather extra personal information from public records, commercial sources, social media sites, apps, and websites to make voter records, even more, identifying exacerbate the problem by compiling ‘Enhanced Voter Records,’ which are even more identifiable. Campaigns are often sold on ‘Enhanced Voter Records,’ which may contain information on a voter’s buying patterns, religious affiliation, recreational interests, and even public social media profiles.

Several states, on the other hand, permit the withholding of personal information if it has been classified as confidential. In order to prohibit the sale and accessibility of surviving addresses in voter lists, several address Confidentiality Programs (ACPs) seek to restrict voter data sharing. To be clear, this is not a guarantee of privacy for all ACPs.

WHAT INFORMATION IS PUBLICALLY AVAILABLE

The name, residence, and party allegiance are all available to the public via the state’s voting records.

Additionally, states have the freedom to collect extra data, and some of that data may be made public. Among the things on the voting record are things like [A.] identifying information, which could be information like the individual’s date of birth and place of birth, gender identity, father’s name or mother’s maiden name, Social Security number, military ID, passport number, drivers’ license, signature; [B.] information pertaining about the address that the individual currently resides at as well as past addresses or the voting district; [C.] contact information of the individual like their telephone number and email address; [D.] their voting information including party affiliation, previous voting, absentee ballot, precincts, registering agency, required assistance; [E.] miscellaneous information like the individual’s criminal record, last date of jury duty, and active or inactive status.

There are state laws that specify who is allowed to obtain a voter list, what information may be disclosed publicly, and with whom. The voting record may be sought by political parties and candidates, law enforcement, government officials, companies, academics, journalists, and even members of the general public depending on the state (and occasionally the county).

HOW TO KEEP VOTING HISTORY PRIVATE

Users may be able to keep parts of their voting history private under state programs. People who qualify for protection include [A.] domestic violence victims; [B.] individuals who have suffered crimes or are under protective orders; [C.] law enforcement officers or their spouses; [D.] California reproductive healthcare medical providers, employees, volunteers, or patients; [E.] retired state and federal judges and attorneys; [F.] Virginia foster parents; [G.] uniformed service members in Oklahoma; [H.] under-eighteen Colorado pre-registered voters; [I.] witnesses and victims in protection and [J.] any voter who requests that their record be classified as private. 

Laws differ from one state to the next. Only political parties may access certain lists, while others are open to the public. Some lists require requesters to be scholars or to work in politics, while others do not. A few may be downloaded at any time from a state website. However, a state-by-state count by the National Conference of State Legislatures shows that all fifty states and the District of Columbia have at least one method for making access simple for requesters.

THE LEGAL IMPACT OF THE CASE AGAINST THE SENATORS 

At various places, specific information demands in the subpoena have been targeted as unlawful or unconstitutional and unenforceable in the seventy-six-page complaint launched by the Attorney General. The driving force of the complaint centers around the fact that a person’s constitutional privacy rights would be violated if the subpoena requested voter information, such as names, birth dates, driver’s license numbers, and partial Social Security numbers. This is because the subpoena is not founded on the evidence of wrongdoing by itself. 

The complaint itself attempts to highlight the present danger of voter data being disclosed in a way that violates the constitutional right to vote because the subpoena is ill-founded. Additionally, it attempts to also resolve a question of precedent: it is a clear endeavor to prevent Republican requests for records of audit and review reports dating back to 2018 on the state’s voter registration system.

According to a letter from Shapiro’s office, the material was considered ‘critical infrastructure information’ by the Department of Homeland Security and cannot be disclosed to the general public under federal law. A copy of the subpoena was sent to top election officials in the office of Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf. Democrats in the state Senate filed a lawsuit to halt the Republican ‘forensic inquiry’ and prevent the subpoena.

How the argument has been structured by the Republican senators in question is that they are using legitimate legislative power in supervising executive branch operations and that what they term a probe’ has nothing to do with Trump or reversing the 2016 election results. 

As with Arizona’s highly criticized audit, the subpoena does not seek ballots or voting equipment, and much of the information sought is already public knowledge, according to Shapiro. However, it is against the law in Pennsylvania to disclose a voter’s driver’s license or social security number to the public. The main contractor in the Arizona Senate GOP’s assessment of the election results received this information on Maricopa County voters. 

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Sources

1. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 25 Pa.C.S.A. Elections § 1207. Open records and documents

Scope.–The following documents under this part are open to public inspection except as otherwise provided in this section:

(1) Records of a registration commission and district registers.

(2) Street lists.

(3) Official voter registration applications.

(4) Petitions and appeals.

(5) Witness lists.

(6) Accounts and contracts.

(7) Reports.

(b) Use.–Open material under subsection (a) may be inspected during ordinary business hours subject to the efficient operation of a commission.  The public inspection shall only be in the presence of a commissioner or authorized commission employee and shall be subject to proper regulation for safekeeping of the material and subject to this part.  Upon request, a photocopy of the record or computer-generated data record shall be provided at cost.  The material may not be used for commercial or improper purposes.

2. According to official statistics, Democrat Joe Biden defeated Republican Donald Trump in Pennsylvania by a margin of moreover 80,000 votes.

3. Shapiro stated: ‘Giving this data away would compromise the privacy of every Pennsylvania voter—that violates Pennsylvanians’ constitutional rights. By trying to pry into everyone’s driver’s license numbers and social security numbers they have gone too far.’

4. Jim Bognet, et al., Petitioners v. Veronica Degraffenreid, Acting Secretary of Pennsylvania, et al. November 27, 2020, United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit  Case Numbers: (20-3214)

5.Staff, Ram Eachambadi | JURIST. ‘GOP Lawmakers File Suit CHALLENGING PENNSYLVANIA Mail-in Voting as Unconstitutional.’ Jurist, – JURIST – News – Legal News & Commentary, 4 Sept. 2021, https://www.jurist.org/news/2021/09/gop-lawmakers-file-suit-challenging-pennsylvanias-mail-in-voting-as-unconstitutional/. 

 The plaintiffs’ primary claim is that the law is unconstitutional because it allows for no-excuse voting by mail whereas the constitution requires lawmakers to provide an alternative way for people to vote only if they are unable to do so for specific reasons such as illness, physical disability, religious observance, or being out of town on business.

6. Issenberg, Sasha. ‘How Obama’s Team Used Big Data to Rally Voters.’ MIT Technology Review, MIT Technology Review, 2 Apr. 2020, https://www.technologyreview.com/2012/12/19/114510/how-obamas-team-used-big-data-to-rally-voters/. 

7. Balz, Dan. ‘How the Obama Campaign Won the Race for Voter Data.’ The Washington Post, WP Company, 28 July 2013, https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/how-the-obama-campaign-won-the-race-for-voter-data/2013/07/28/ad32c7b4-ee4e-11e2-a1f9-ea873b7e0424_story.html. 

8. Daley, David. ‘Voters Had Their Say. PARTISANS Ignored Them.’ The New York Times, The New York Times, 29 Sept. 2021, https://www.nytimes.com/2021/09/29/opinion/redistricting-commissions-democracy.html. 

9. The Help America Vote Act of 2002 Pub.L. 107–252, or HAVA, is a United States federal law which passed in the House 357-48 and 92-2 in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush on October 29, 2002. The bill was drafted (at least in part) in reaction to the controversy surrounding the 2000 U.S. presidential election when almost two million ballots were disqualified because they registered multiple votes or none when run through vote-counting machines.

10. Andrew, Scottie. ‘For Abuse Victims, Registering to Vote Brings a Dangerous Tradeoff.’ CNN, Cable News Network, 27 Oct. 2020, https://edition.cnn.com/2020/10/27/us/domestic-violence-voting-election-privacy-trnd/index.html. 

11. Unfounded claims that voters were registered as residing in a condemned building need specific details on each voter, according to Senate Republican Committee Chairman Cris Dush, R-Jefferson. Other than that, Dush was unable to provide any information.

12. It’s not about fixing issues from the previous election, they claim. Instead, they’re trying to increase voter trust in elections

13. Neas, — Ralph, et al. ‘How the Arizona Senate Audit in Maricopa County Is an Assault on Voting Rights.’ The Century Foundation, 27 Sept. 2021, https://tcf.org/content/report/arizona-senate-audit-maricopa-county-assault-voting-rights/?agreed=1. 

14. Pennsylvania Statutes Title 25 Pa.C.S.A. Elections § 1403. Street lists

(a) Preparation.–Commencing not later than the 15th day prior to each election, each commission shall prepare for each election district a list of the names and addresses of all registered electors as of that date resident in the district.  The list may not include the digitized or electronic signature of a registered elector.  The list shall be arranged in one of the following manners:

(1) By streets and house numbers.

(2) Alphabetically by last name of each registered elector.

(3) In a manner whereby the location of the elector’s residence can be identified.

(b) Copies.–The commission shall retain two copies of the list under subsection (a) on file at its office and forward one copy of the list under subsection (a) to the department.  These copies shall be available for public inspection during business hours, subject to reasonable safeguards and regulations.

(c) Distribution.–The department and each commission shall distribute the list under subsection (a) upon request as follows:

(1) To officials concerned with the conduct of elections.

(2) To political parties and political bodies.

(3) To candidates.

(d) Organizations.–The commission may, for a reasonable fee, distribute the list under subsection (a) to organized bodies of citizens.

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