Easy accessibility of voter registration data imperils American safety
© Moriah Ratner
Over the last year, ISIS-affiliated groups have compiled and released several "kill lists" with the names and addresses of about 8,000 Americans who the group is asking "lone wolves" to target in future terrorist attacks. That development should highlight the need for lawmakers to restrict the easy availability of voter registration data.
 
Disturbingly, the personal identifying information of millions of Americans can be readily found on voter registration lists. Those lists are routinely sold by state election agencies, and made available to people around the world. The lists included the full names, addresses, phone numbers and, in some cases, even the birthdates of millions of registered voters.
 
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Lawmakers in both major political parties tend to oppose putting any restrictions on sale of the data. So do political campaign consultants and major business interests (such as financial and insurance institutions, health care providers, the media, and data mining operations.)
 
 
Once obtained, the voter registration lists can be legally posted to and downloaded from the Internet. The lists can be sorted by age to create senior scam lists. They can be used to identify a voter’s neighbors. Perpetrators of domestic violence and stalkers can use the lists to track down their victims. Identity thieves can use information taken from the lists. And ISIS can use the lists to locate its targets, including members of government, the military and diplomatic services, law enforcement and their families.
 
States vary in restricting whether the lists can be used for academic, commercial, or strictly nonprofit endeavors. Some have no restrictions, and as a result, websites such as Voter Records publicize data on over 50 million Americans living in 14 states. Those states include Alaska, Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Michigan, Nevada, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington. 
 
Websites often allow users to click on a link to view a map of their neighborhood, obtain a street view of their home, and locate their relatives and other registered voters who may be affiliated with them. For example, personal identifying information on Rhode Island Sen. Jack ReedJack ReedTop Democrat calls Trump's Afghan drawdown 'the right policy decision' as others warn of 'mistake' Overnight Defense: Trump fires Defense chief Mark Esper | Worries grow about rudderless post-election Pentagon | Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up | Pelosi says Esper firing shows Trump intent on sowing 'chaos' Esper firing hints at broader post-election shake-up MORE, as sold by his state, can be found on "Rhode Island Voters," and Ohio Sen. Sherrod BrownSherrod Campbell BrownOn The Money: Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed | Trump administration proposal takes aim at bank pledges to avoid fossil fuel financing | JPMorgan: Economy will shrink in first quarter due to COVID-19 spike Democrats accuse Mnuchin of sabotaging economy in dispute with Fed McSally, staff asked to break up maskless photo op inside Capitol MORE’s information, along with that of his spouse and neighbors, can be found on Voter Records
 
Genealogy websites such as Family Tree Now also use public records to help users find individuals, their current and past addresses, phone numbers, possible relatives and associates, and so on. State voter registration lists appear to be the backbone of this site. Information on both Arizona Sen. John McCain and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham can be found on the website.
 
At a time when identity theft is rampant, when domestic violence and stalking are serious national concerns, and when terrorists are calling for the murder of American citizens, one would think that state legislatures would do more to protect voters' personal information. However, they do just the opposite by permitting its sale. The practice leaves those who wish to protect their information with no options other than to refuse to register to vote or to cancel existing voter registrations to prevent further compromises of their information.

Shouldn't the government protect American citizens rather than make life easier for criminals and terrorists?

Ronald Mortensen is a fellow at the Center for Immigration Studies (@wwwCISorg), a nonprofit group that advocates for legal immigration. He holds a Ph.D from the University of Utah and previously worked as a Foreign Service Officer.


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