Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill is looking to make changes regarding the disclosure of voter rolls in hopes of protecting the privacy of registered voters.
Merrill, who listed cyber security as a concern this past summer when she rebuffed giving the information to the Trump Administration, announced legislation Wednesday that would reduce the amount of information publicly available and restrict how people can use that data.
“You don’t have to go too far to see the problems,” she said about identity theft. “I mean, almost everyone has been impact by breaches.” She listed several breaches in recent years, including Equifax, Target, and banking institutions, as examples.
Merrill’s proposal wouldn’t change the fact that a statewide list of registered voters, compiled from reach town’s voter rolls, is available for purchase through her office for $350. It would, though, change disclosure laws so that only a voter’s year of birth would be included in that data.
A voter’s date of birth is currently publicly available, but Merrill said someone could use that information, along with name and address — information that is also publicly available — to steal an identity.
Merrill said she heard concerns from “thousands” of residents after the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, which President Donald Trump commissioned to investigate his complaints of voter fraud, asked all 50 states for their voter rolls.
Merrill was among dozens of secretaries of state, Democrat and Republican, who balked at the request, and she sighted concerns about privacy as her reasoning. She also noted Connecticut’s disclosure laws mean the state’s voter roll has more information than most others.
Merrill said other states have seen residents unregistering to vote — she shared with reporters a Denver Post article that more than 3,000 Coloradans had taken that step.
Aside from protecting a voter’s date of birth, Merrill also wants legislation that would prohibit people from purchasing the list for commercial usage.
Tom Alciere, of New Hampshire, purchased Connecticut’s 2013 list and charged voters $5 each to have their information removed from his website. Political committees, researchers, and journalists could still purchase the list, but anyone who used the information for commercial purposes would be charged with a Class C felony.
Merrill said she believes her proposal strikes a balance between privacy concerns and Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act.
“The FOI laws are there for a reason — government shouldn’t be collecting information on people that’s secret,” she said. “On the other hand, I think the public has a legitimate interest in protecting their private data against identity theft.”
The legislature’s Government Administration and Elections Committee, which has cognizance over election laws, is scheduled to have its first meeting of the session Friday. Reps. Hilda Santiago, D-Meriden, and Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott, both on the committee, said they hadn’t yet had the chance to review Merrill’s proposal.
Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said he “appreciates the fact” that Merrill is trying to protect voters’, but there’s “fine line” between privacy and public disclosure.
Swan, who said he was generally aware of what Merrill is seeking to do but hadn’t seen her proposal, also said he wants to make sure any changes don’t affect advocacy groups that use the list to reach the public.
“It’s really important that we get the details,” he said.