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Protecting the Privacy of Voters

Last month, Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who serves as Vice Chair of President Trump’s Advisory Commission on Election Integrity, requested extensive election data and confidential voter information from all 50 states. Under the guise of investigating “widespread voter fraud” in the 2016 election, the Commission requested a list of all registered voters, their addresses, date of birth, voting histories, political affiliations, and the last four digits of their social security numbers. On a bi-partisan basis, this request has not been received well. As of this writing, over 44 states are refusing to honor the request. Governor McAuliffe also declined to release the data to the White House citing legitimate privacy and technical concerns, as well as potential political motivations. In addition, the request is another unfunded mandate on states and localities.

As you may know, I have served on the Privileges and Elections Committee since 2004 and am now the senior Democrat. Ensuring that Virginia has secure, fair, open and transparent election systems while protecting the privacy of the ballot-box has been a top priority. The Commission’s unusual request prompted our office to investigate how Virginia currently protects this sensitive, highly-personal data.

Governed by Virginia code sections § 24.2-405, § 24.2-406, § 24.2-706, and § 24.2-710, the State limits access to “lists of persons registered or voting” to a narrow set of groups and for an even more restrictive set of purposes. Furthermore, the Code allows the release of social security numbers to government entities only for official purposes such as jury selection and tax assessment/collection. Before any entity has access to the data, they are required to sign a statement attesting that they meet the necessary conditions and will not disseminate voter information. Violation of this statement is punishable as a Class 5 felony.  

Although the Code provides extensive protections of this sensitive data, I plan to review the Commonwealth’s current practices to see if any legislative changes are necessary. If you have any concerns about our current practices or suggestions for changes please reach out to my office at