Election Day is just around the corner, and everywhere you turn, various organizations, committees, and individuals are urging Americans to register to vote.
When you register with your local district as a voter, that information becomes part of the public record. But what exactly can someone see if they request to see your voter registration record? Is it just your name? Your birthdate and home address? Your voting history?
Here’s a look at what does and doesn’t typically become part of the public record when you register to vote.
What Voter Registration Information Is Available To The Public?
Voter registration instructions in the United States vary from state to state, but at minimum, you must provide your full name, home address, date of birth, and an ID number (depending on your state, this may be your full or partial social security number or your driver’s license number). There are also boxes for your political party affiliation, phone number, email address, and other personally identifying information.
Because voter record data is collected for public purposes, you are not able to opt-out of record keeping and sharing. According to Forbes, the following information may be included in your public voter record:
- Full name
- Home address
- Party affiliation
- Your election history
- Phone number/email address
It’s important to note that your election history does not include the specific candidates you voted for, but simply whether you did or did not vote in a particular election. A person’s actual ballot choices are never permitted to be made public.
Each state has its own laws about the availability of other personal information, such as birth dates and social security numbers. Depending on where you live, these details could be potentially released with your voter record.
How Are Voter Records Used?
As you might have guessed, public voter records are primarily requested and used for campaigning purposes by political parties and candidates who are running for office. For instance, a person who is running for a local government position may pull records of individuals in their city who have a consistent voting history and are affiliated with their political party.
However, in most states, voter records are also available to anyone who asks for them – and their intentions aren’t always good. Recently, residents in some Florida counties received a threatening flyer in the mail urging them to vote. The flyer included the names and voting records of the recipients' neighbors, and promised to reveal their names and records in the future if they didn’t vote.
TechSafety.org reports that as of 2016, only 11 states don’t share voter information with the general public, although a handful do limit access to certain groups (in-state residents, other registered voters, nonprofit organizations, etc.). Individuals can often check anyone’s voter registration status online with minimal information – name, birth date, zip code – and find that person’s full street address.
The new trend toward Automatic Voter Registration – where eligible individuals are automatically registered to vote when they access services from government agencies like the Department of Motor Vehicles, unless they opt out – means even more individuals will have their names and street addresses accessible to the public.
The availability of this information is particularly concerning to survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, stalking, or trafficking. Some may choose not to vote for fear that their location will be revealed to their abuser or assailant. Fortunately, 29 states with Address Confidentiality Programs (ACPs) prevent the sharing of participant voter records to keep survivors' addresses from being sold and accessible in voter lists, says TechSafety.org.
If you are concerned about your voter registration privacy, investigate the laws in your home state to see if you have options for limiting information sharing. You may also want to run a public records search of yourself to see where your voter information might be listed.
If you haven’t yet registered to vote in the upcoming election and wish to do so, visit vote.gov, where you can find instructions for your specific state.