HARTFORD — How to keep voter files safe from identity theft and other threats is the focus of two bills under consideration by the Government Administration and Elections Committee.
The bills, which received a public hearing Monday at the Capitol, would limit who can obtain copies of voter rolls, what information they could access and what they can do with that information.
They would also allow people with safety concerns or municipal police to opt out of having their information available on public voter rolls.
Championed by the Secretary of the State and League of Women Voters for increasing voter privacy and information security, the bills drew criticism from the Freedom of Information Commission and American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut for limiting access to and transparency around voter information.
Secretary of the State Denise Merrill testified that her office receives more calls about what information is distributed in the voter file than any other topic.
Concern about voter information grew, she said, after a former New Hampshire legislator bought the 2.3 million records of the Connecticut voter file for $300, put online and charged Connecticut residents to remove their information, including legal name, address, birth date, phone number, political party information and dates voted, from his site.
“The voter file is meant to be a registry of voters, full stop,” said Merrill. “They shouldn’t have to worry that their personal information will be comprised or for their personal safety.”
“An Act Protecting the Privacy of Voters” would make it illegal for people to buy the voter file to harass voters, market products or advertising to them or reproduce it in print, video or online. Voter information would only be available for elections, to candidates for political office, to scholars, journalists or government agencies.
To try to prevent identity theft, the act would also remove voters’ birth month and day from the public voter files, retaining only the birth year as publicly accessible information. Merrill said partial social security numbers can be estimated based on a person’s birth date and home state.
The Freedom of Information Commission opposed the proposal, however, arguing that voters’ full birth dates are necessary to distinguish voters with the same names and prevent voter fraud. Colleen Murphy, executive director of the Commission, also voiced concerns that some classes of people would be able to access voter information and some would not.
“Transparency is meant to deter voter fraud and provide a means to detect it,” she said in written testimony. “The second reason for transparency is to ensure that registration and election officials, who are charged with entering, updating and maintaining voter data, are accountable and carry out their roles in accordance with the law.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut also opposed the bills for many of the same reasons. Without offering definitions of who or what could qualify as a scholar or journalist, the bills were “ripe for abuse,” testified Kaley Lentini, legislative counsel for the ACLU of Connecticut.
She suggested all people should have the ability to opt off the public voter file for privacy reasons — not just those with safety concerns or police.
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