A political mailer sharing the voting habits of neighbors might not be a new trick for the 2014 elections, but it’s one that has some residents questioning how much of their personal information should be made public.
Joshua Ciganek of Wesley Chapel received the postcard among other political mailings Wednesday, informing him that while he voted in 2012, he didn’t vote in 2010 — and he wasn’t alone. Several other neighbors were listed by name and address, as well as their voting record in the last two elections. It had a stern warning that he should not “throw away his vote” because “your neighbors will know. It’s public record.”
The mailer, part of campaign material produced by Citizens for a Better Florida executive committee, is right: Whether someone has voted or not is very much public record, and it’s the kind of information campaigns from all walks of political life use to determine who votes regularly, and who doesn’t.
The primary benefit of data like that is it allows campaigns to target likely voters, instead of those who might be registered to vote, but will almost definitely not make it to the polls by election day. However, using that information to try and shame others into voting is something that started to pop up in recent years, and it’s still completely legal.
“I never had a voter say to me, ‘You know what, my neighbor hasn’t voted. I need to get over there and tell them they have to,’” Pasco County elections supervisor Brian Corley said. “I don’t know how successful they are doing something like this, but if they are trying to irritate voters, they’re succeeding.”
Joshua’s mother, Lisa Ciganek, actually saw this particular postcard before her son did. She was immediately concerned with so much detail about her family’s — and neighborhood’s — voting history being so readily available.
But after she got Corley on the phone a short time later, she was even more shocked to learn what kind of information anyone from the public can get about her and everyone else registered to vote.
“I was told that anyone can get names, addresses, email, telephone numbers, even birthdays,” Lisa Ciganek said. “I’m like, ‘Are you kidding me?’ I can understand having names and addresses, but why would someone need to do a public record request on when your birthday is?”
Even more frustrating for Lisa Ciganek is the fact that her son was called out for not voting in 2010. But Joshua had an excuse for not participating in that election — he was only 16 at the time.
“They had his birthday, so I don’t know why they couldn’t check that out,” she said.
Citizens for a Better Florida has raised more than $660,000 this past year, according to state campaign finance records, with their primary donor coming from another executive committee called Realtors Political Advocacy Committee. That group over the last two weeks alone has received more than $500,000 — its primary source of funding — from the National Association of Realtors, an advocacy group representing real estate professionals around the country.
A spokeswoman for NAR tried to direct The Laker/Lutz News to the state organization of real estate professionals, Florida Realtors. However, when she was informed that most of the recent funding for these mailers came from the national organization, she asked for more time to review, and that response was still pending Thursday.
Yet, nothing what the executive committee did was illegal, Corley said. Anyone can request voter information, and anyone can use it or disseminate it any way they want. NAR’s intentions might be good, but the results may not be what they expected.
“This is like the world’s worst get-out-the-vote effort,” Corley said.”There were two sets of mailings like this in 2012, where one week we had a conservative-leaning group trying to get Republican voters. They were all calling us en masse, and emailing us, complaining about this information being released to them. Then the next week, a liberal group did the same thing reaching out to Democratic voters.”
Corley and other elections supervisors around the state have pushed the Florida Legislature to pass a law removing some personal information like birthdays from public release, but have not been successful on moving it forward just yet.
Lisa Ciganek says the mailer’s get-out-the-vote effort is completely wasted on her family. In fact, it’s more discouraging about participating in the election process, than encouraging.
“You have enough smearing going on in campaigns, why are we encouraging our neighbors to smear each other?” she asked. “I have a problem with that.”