As election season has gone on, people who are registered to vote but had not yet voted may have been contacted by their respective political party with a message urging them to go to the polls and vote.
While this reminder to get out and vote may have been a useful reminder for some people, it also raises the questions: how is this group getting the contact information of voters?
Voter registration information is open record. Essentially, that means anyone can locate which party you are registered with.
This information is accessible through requests to the local government and through websites such as Vote Kansas. All voter registration information can be located by entering a person’s full name, date of birth and the county in which they are registered.
Rich Vargo, Riley County clerk, said some of the people and groups who take advantage of the laws allowing access to this information are aspiring politicians, incumbent politicians and political parties.
These people and groups do so for a variety of reasons. Vargo, an elected official himself, said he knows of the benefits of this system.
“I’m a Republican, so I can only get signatures of registered Republicans,” Vargo said. “So there has to be a way for me to find out who is a registered Republican, that way I’m not going to every doorstep, I’m only going to the doorsteps of Republicans to get signatures so I can file for office. So I’m sure that was part of the intent originally.”
Another reason is to keep track of who has and hasn’t voted yet so they know who to target when sending messages out to people encouraging them to vote.
While this system is used by many, Vargo said there are definitely concerns from registered voters every election about the accessibility of their information.
“Then we will get a call sometimes from people saying, ‘Hey, how did this person know that much detailed information about me? They know my phone number, they know I didn’t vote in advance and they know that I haven’t voted on election day,’” Vargo said.
Vargo said he has concerns himself and said he has been actively speaking to other users of this information about the negative effects it can have on voters.
“The parties and the campaigns want people to be involved and go out to vote, but what I explain to them is, ‘You’re kind of doing the opposite to some people, you’re disenfranchising them,’” Vargo said. “’They don’t want to be bothered by you. They don’t want anyone to know whether they show up to the polls or not. They feel like that’s private information.’”
Tack Neely, junior in biology, shared his thoughts on the availability of voter information.
As a registered voter in Riley County, Neely said he doesn’t believe it is necessary for others to know which party he is registered with.
“I hadn’t known that that was available to the public until recently,” Neely said. “I kind of suspected it because I had gotten some text messages from the young democrat group at K-State, which I’m not a part of. But I was like, ‘That’s odd,’ because I’d obviously not given them my phone number or anything.”
Nathaniel Birkhead, associate professor of political science, said he believes, despite concerns held by some voters, people aren’t likely to stop voting or be pushed away from their party.
“If you are a Democrat or you are a Republican, that is how you think of yourself,” Birkhead said. “Then getting one kind of obnoxious email or one obnoxious text message, however invasive it may feel, is probably not going to be the straw that broke the camel’s back.”