Connecticut may limit access to state's voter database
By SUSAN HAIGH
Feb. 18, 2018
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Marketing companies and other private entities would no longer be able to buy Connecticut's state voter list for about $300 and use the data for solicitations and other purposes under new legislation being considered by state lawmakers this session.
Instead, only political party committees, candidates, political action committees, journalists, academic researchers and governmental agencies could tap the cache of information, which includes full names, addresses, phone numbers, political affiliations and birth dates. The proposed change is being offered by Democratic Secretary of the State Denise Merrill, who also wants to prevent a voter's full birthdate from being released.
Merrill, who is seeking re-election in November, said she was motivated by the thousands of messages she received from voters after a now-disbanded presidential commission had sought reams of data last year.
"I have never received as much mail and email and phone calls as I did about this issue," she said.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity's demand for data last year generated privacy concerns and fears of identity theft. Connecticut and many other states ultimately refused to comply, prompting President Donald Trump to dissolve the panel and transfer its mission to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. There were reports of voters in some states canceling their registrations following the commission's initial request.
One voter from Ellington emphatically urged Merrill not to release the data, saying the "information the commission is requesting screams identity theft. It terrifies me that these people will have everything they need to become me." Another voter from Norwalk said she would be "all right with my name being provided and the fact I voted, but no more."
Merrill said she doesn't think most Connecticut voters realize that information from the voter database is currently available to members of the public.
"I think my concern is that when people register to vote, they should only be concerned with their voting, and which candidates they're going to choose," Merrill added. "They shouldn't have to worry that their personal information is being compromised. And that's what they're worried about."
While Social Security numbers and driver's license numbers are required to vote, the information is not maintained in the central voter registration system and therefore not publicly available.
Susan Chapman, a former New Fairfield first selectman and a Republican candidate for secretary of the state, said she hasn't heard concerns from voters about their personal information being at risk, but still likes the idea of better protecting the database.
"Quite frankly, this is something that should have been done before now," she said, adding how it's a "convenient issue" for Merrill to now raise as she seeks a third, four-year term in office.
Cheri Quickmire, executive director of the election advocacy group Common Cause in Connecticut, told the Connecticut Post that she understands Merrill's concerns about privacy but finds the changes troubling, noting how much of the information is already available on the internet.
"It does concern me that information that has been public heretofore might be withheld. I don't think a new law would prevent might prevent bad actors from getting access to the voter-registration data," Quickmire said.
The bill, which awaits action by the General Assembly's Government Administration and Elections Committee, would also allow people who feel they are under threat to have their information completely redacted. Currently, victims of domestic violence have that ability.