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For Immediate Release, Friday, May 28, 2004
Contact: Kim Alexander or Saskia Mills
(530) 750-7650 or

New study examines voter data privacy in the US

“Voter Privacy in the Digital Age” a benchmark of voter registration data practices

Davis, CA - The California Voter Foundation (CVF) today published a state-by-state study of voter registration data gathering and privacy practices, to call attention to voter privacy issues and to provide states with information and recommendations they can use as they implement the federal Help America Vote Act (HAVA).

The study, called “Voter Privacy in the Digital Age”, is available on the CVF web site at:

The study is based on a comprehensive 2002 survey of state voter registration forms, state laws governing use of voter data, and interviews with state election agencies. The survey, conducted prior to the passage of HAVA, serves as a benchmark of pre-HAVA data collection and dissemination practices.

“This study represents the first comprehensive analysis of voter privacy ever undertaken,” said Kim Alexander, CVF President and co-author of the study. “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.”

Key findings include:

- As of 2002, states were gathering a wide array of data from voters through voter registration forms:

- Of the five different kinds of disclosure to voters that appear on voter registration forms, penalty notice was found to be the most common while notice that secondary users could access voter data was the least common.

- Voter data is widely disseminated to secondary users:

Computerization of voter registration data, the rise of “voter profiling” by political campaigns, and the implementation of statewide voter registration databases are important trends impacting voter privacy today, according to the study.

“Voter profiling has greatly enabled campaigns to precisely target their mail, phone calls and door-to-door visits to those people who are most likely to vote,” Alexander said. “In the process of targeting whom they want to reach, campaigns have become skilled at ignoring those they are not interested in reaching--primarily nonvoters and infrequent voters.”

The study makes a series of recommendations to the states, including:

Many states have yet to implement new HAVA requirements such as the creation of centralized, computerized voter registration databases. 41 states have asked the federal government for waivers to delay the implementation of this requirement until 2006.

New data-gathering laws under HAVA that require voters to provide their drivers' license number or last four digits of their Social Security number “greatly enhance the need to protect and control the dissemination of sensitive voter data,” said Alexander. “With so many states waiting to develop and implement statewide, computerized voter registration databases, there is still plenty of opportunity for citizens and election officials to ensure that voter privacy concerns are considered as these programs are implemented,” Alexander said.

“Voter Privacy in the Digital Age” was co-authored by Kim Alexander and Keith Mills, a graduate of the University of California at Berkeley's Goldman School of Public Policy. Research assistance was provided by students at UC Berkeley's Samuelson Center for Law, Technology and Public Policy at Boalt Hall, with funding provided by the Wallace Alexander Gerbode Foundation.

The California Voter Foundation is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization advancing the responsible use of technology to improve democracy. More information about CVF is online at

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This page was first published on May 28 , 2004 | Last updated on January 27, 2006
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