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Voter Privacy in the Digital Age


This study represents the first comprehensive analysis of voter privacy ever undertaken. One overarching conclusion of this study is the need to establish a national dialogue about how to protect voter privacy in the digital age and ensure that voter data practices are not a deterrent to voter participation.

It is not known the extent to which the voter profiling that arises from widespread access to voter data has already chilled voter registration and in turn, participation. Policymakers should consider this question and the steps that need to be taken for voter registration data practices to meet the needs of voters over those of secondary users. This will be a special challenge, since the politicians who ought to address this policy issue are also secondary users of voter lists and have come to feel entitled to widespread access to the data in order to run their political campaigns. Further, these politicians determine what data is gathered from voters and for what purposes it can be used. In many states the Secretary of State is responsible for maintaining the voter registration form and is also an elected officeholder. These roles may pose a conflict for an elected Secretary of State who may directly benefit from greater access to voter data.

Another challenge to implementing improvements in voter privacy is posed by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA). HAVA requires states to establish statewide voter registration databases, which can expedite the distribution of voter lists, and to collect and verify voters’ driver’s license numbers. The need to develop data management and privacy practices that protect voters has never been greater. Given that most states are redesigning their voter registration forms to comply with the new federal mandate, states have an opportunity to consider how their data collection and dissemination practices can be improved overall to better protect voter privacy.


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This page was first published on June 9, 2004 | Last updated on January 23, 2012
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