PIERCE COUNTY, WA — As the election gets down to the wire, local committees have ramped up Get Out The Vote campaigns. As a result, voters want answers from the Pierce County Auditor’s Office about how their personal information is made public.
Campaign volunteers make phone calls and knock on doors, encouraging voters to return their ballots. Voters want to know, “How do they know that I haven’t voted?” And, “How do they know my name?”
Campaigns utilize voter registration lists, made available by County Auditors or the Secretary of State. Voter registration lists include data about when voters return ballots, and for which elections. Campaigns request updated voter registration lists, sometimes on a daily basis. These updates will show whether or not a voter has returned their ballot, but not how they have voted.
Q: Why is this information public?
RCW 29A.08.720 requires election officials to make the voter registration data base available for public inspection. This includes the name, address, date of birth, and voting history of every voter. The voting history only reflects whether a voter returned a ballot, not how they voted.
RCW 29A.08.710 allows election officials to protect voter phone numbers, emails (if they provided it), Driver’s License number, and any portion of a social security number. Our office protects this data.
Q: How does the young man walking door-to-door have a list that includes phone numbers and political affiliations?
That information doesn’t come from the Auditor’s Office or Secretary of State. Political consultants and parties use their own databases, or data from third-party vendors, to fill in the blanks not provided in voter registration records.
Q: How can my vote be private if these people know my voting history?
Election officials take great care to protect the secrecy of every vote. Although every ballot return is recorded on a voter’s registration record, that’s where the documentation ends. After that, ballots (still inside the inner secrecy envelope) are separated from the outer envelope with the voter name and voter ID. Once the two envelopes are separated, there is no way to link a ballot to a voter. The secrecy envelope is only opened after it has been separated from the voter identity.
Q: How often do campaigns get this information?
Every day, campaigns and candidates ask for updated voter registration lists, known as “matchbacks.” These lists show who has returned a ballot. Campaigns use that information to concentrate on “prospects.” Typically, a voter is removed from mail, call and walk lists once they’ve returned a ballot.