E-mail from Mike Lee campaign puts voter privacy in question

2010-10-19T00:40:00Z 2010-10-25T11:17:34Z E-mail from Mike Lee campaign puts voter privacy in questionGenelle Pugmire - Daily Herald Daily Herald
October 19, 2010 12:40 am  • 

Along with voter identification information, the state keeps individual records on voter participation in each election, and that data is available to anyone willing to pay the fee.

One Cedar Hills resident was taken aback when he received an e-mail from Mike Lee’s senatorial campaign over the weekend with just that information. Andy Gibbons said an attachment to the Lee e-mail listed the names and contact information (in some cases, including e-mail addresses) of voters who have voted in presidential elections, but not mid-term elections.

The fourth paragraph of Lee e-mail reads: “We here at the Mike Lee Campaign would like to issue you a challenge to encourage your neighbors, family and friends to get out to vote. Attached to this e-mail you will find a list of voters in your precinct who regularly vote in presidential elections, but not in mid-term elections. These voters do not understand the importance of mid-term elections and the direct impact their vote can have on our state. We need to inform these voters!”

“In a technological world, a person’s e-mail is not the kind of thing you spread around,” Gibbons said. “It’s considered rude to give away someone’s e-mail. To send it out in a mass mailing seemed unethical.”

Bill Lee, field director of the Mike Lee for Senate campaign, said e-mails and voting information have come to them from several lists that are all public. “If you sign up for our newsletter, we get e-mails. Utah County publishes e-mails online from the Central Committee, Washington County does too. Others don’t publish e-mails,” Lee said.

Lee said most people don’t know that any time you vote it’s a public record. “We get from the lieutenant governor’s office votes by mail on a daily basis. We pay $35 and we get not how they voted, but that they voted, and we do get their party affiliation,” he added.

Lee said it’s a way campaigns can maximize their efforts and target voters properly. “Our strategy is not to push people but to inform them and to get people involved. You can move things quickly in a computer,” Lee said.

Scott Hogensen, Utah County chief deputy clerk-auditor, agrees with Gibbons and is concerned that private information is being sold.

“We need to be more sensitive with privacy issues,” Hogensen said. “I’ve even tried to work with the Legislature to consider taking off birth dates (from voter information). We have identity theft concerns.”

According to Mark Thomas, director of the state elections office, “Voter registration lists are made available after every election. Public campaigns purchase them all the time. The law says we have to make records available, except we do not give social security numbers or driver’s license numbers. And yes, they even give birth dates.”

The cost for a state-wide voter list is $1,050. The cost for voter registration lists for individual counties varies but is substantially less.

Thomas said he didn’t see anything illegal about what Lee’s campaign was sending, using or asking residents to do. “It’s quite a big thing for campaigns to purchase these lists,” Thomas said.

A lot of this doesn’t sit well with Hogensen, who says he hopes the law will change about what he considers privacy issues. “I’m afraid I don’t have a choice. The state releases stuff even if I don’t like it,” he said.

The e-mails in the Lee list could have come from those lists everyone was signing at caucus meetings. Lee admitted it’s not unusual for a variety of lists to be crunched into one voter list, giving anyone as much information as they need to determine who the voters are, when they voted, how to find them and encourage them to vote.

“It just hit me wrong for a candidate in a Republican county who generally doesn’t have a challenger to send something so despicable — it just didn’t seem right,” Gibbons said. “And it didn’t seem right to pressure one voter into pressuring another person to vote. These people are targets.”

Gibbons sent a letter to the Lee campaign voicing his concerns.

 Last spring Utah County had one of the largest turnouts at political caucus meetings in the history of, well, caucus meetings. Clipboards were being handed out precinct by precinct with upset voters giving their names, addresses, phone numbers and e-mail addresses, so they can keep up to date on candidate information, central committee news and more.

But some enthusiastic residents may not be aware that those bits of information, and more from the state's voter rolls, are now part of lists purchased by candidates for a variety of purposes. One Cedar Hills resident was taken back when he received an e-mail from Mike Lee's senatorial campaign over the weekend with just that information.

Andy Gibbons said an attachment to the Lee e-mail listed the names and contact information (in some cases, including e-mail addresses) of voters who have voted in presidential elections, but not mid-term elections.

The fourth paragraph of Lee e-mail reads: "We here at the Mike Lee Campaign would like to issue you a challenge to encourage your neighbors, family and friends to get out to vote. Attached to this e-mail you will find a list of voters in your precinct who regularly vote in presidential elections, but not in mid-term elections. These voters do not understand the importance of mid-term elections and the direct impact their vote can have on our state. We need to inform these voters!"

"In a technological world, a person's e-mail is not the kind of thing you spread around," Gibbons said. "It's considered rude to give away someone's e-mail. To send it out in a mass mailing seemed unethical."

Bill Lee, field director of the Mike Lee for Senate campaign, said e-mails and voting information have come to them from several lists that are all public. "If you sign up for our newsletter, we get e-mails. Utah County publishes e-mails online from the Central Committee, Washington County does too. Others don't publish e-mails," Lee said.

Lee said most people don't know that any time you vote it's public. "We get from the lieutenant governor's office votes by mail on a daily basis. We pay $35 and we get not how they voted, but that they voted, and we do get their party affiliation," he added.

Lee said it's a way campaigns can maximize their efforts and target voters properly. "Our strategy is not to push people but to inform them and to get people involved. You can move things quickly in a computer," Lee said.

Scott Hogensen, Utah County chief deputy clerk-auditor, agrees with Gibbons and is concerned that private information is being sold.

"We need to be more sensitive with privacy issues," Hogensen said. "I've even tried to work with the Legislature to consider taking off birth dates (from voter information). We have identity theft concerns."

According to Mark Thomas, director of the state elections office, "Voter registration lists are made available after every election. Public campaigns purchase them all the time. The law says we have to make records available, except we do not give social security numbers or driver's license numbers. And yes, they even give birth dates."

The cost for a state-wide voter list is $1,050. The cost for voter registration lists for individual counties varies but is substantially less.

Thomas said he didn't see anything illegal about what Lee's campaign was sending, using or asking residents to do. "It's quite a big thing for campaigns to purchase these lists," Thomas said.

A lot of this doesn't sit well with Hogensen, who says he hopes the law will change about what he considers privacy issues. "I'm afraid I don't have a choice. The state releases stuff even if I don't like it," he said.

The e-mails in the Lee list could have come from those lists everyone was signing at caucus meetings. Lee admitted it's not unusual for a variety of lists to be crunched into one voter list, giving anyone as much information as they need to determine who the voters are, when they voted, how to find them and encourage them to vote.

"It just hit me wrong for a candidate in a Republican county who generally doesn't have a challenger to send something so despicable -- it just didn't seem right," Gibbons said. "And it didn't seem right to pressure one voter into pressuring another person to vote. These people are targets."

Gibbons sent a letter to the Lee campaign voicing his concerns.

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