This ought to stir up some discussion. I’ve often felt use of this data in electronic bulk format by candidates campaigns to limit outreach to the most active voters was a state subsidy for exclusion. This is particularly true for local election where local candidates can easily concentrate outreach on the most likely voters … on the other hand it could be viewed as a way to keep the costs of campaigning under control. And in 1998 folks with Jesse Ventura’s insurgent third party campaign used this data to specifically target less frequent voters. The site below will raise awareness of the fact that this data has generally been available, just not online for all to use.
Subject: “Who Voted” Website Provides Public Access to Voter Lists
Date: Tue, 4 Nov 2008 11:57:02 -0800 (PST)
From: Todd Davies
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE, November 3, 2008
CONTACT: Todd Davies (davies at csli dot stanford dot edu)
“Who Voted” Website Provides Public Access to Voter Lists
As voters go to the polls around the U.S. this week, a new website is promoting
the need for easy public access to voter lists. The site, called “Who Voted?”,
provides free web access to voter histories – the official lists of those who
are recorded as having voted in government elections. Site visitors can now
view records for four states — Florida, Idaho, Ohio, and Washington — by
searching on a name, voter registration number, or zip code. The site is live
The Who Voted project grew out of a Google Summer of Code grant to Computer
Professionals for Social Responsibility (CPSR), but the current website and the
views it represents are independent of CPSR. Who Voted is being hosted as a
research prototype on a server located at Stanford University. Members of the
project team include Todd Davies, Jeffrey Gerard, Reid Chandler, and Gordon
The Who Voted team plans to upload data from more states in the future.
Meanwhile, the team hopes to spark a conversation about the need for public
access to voter lists. Many states restrict the ability of the public to
access voter data, through laws that prevent its general release and/or high
fees for obtaining the data.
Since the late 19th Century, public elections in the United States, and in most
other countries, have utilized a secret ballot. This means that no one except
the individual voter is supposed to know for which candidates or propositions
that voter voted. The secret ballot protects voters’ privacy and generally
prevents the buying and coercion of votes. While it is widely viewed as
essential to democracy in large modern societies, the secret ballot makes
election results difficult to verify, and removes a communicative function in
the act of voting.
The Who Voted website attempts to address these problems while maintaining
ballot secrecy and voter privacy. It makes already-public information about who
voted, which is usually difficult to access, available to everyone for free via
the web. Citizens may check their own or others’ voter histories for personal
interest, or to verify that they were properly recorded as voting (or not
voting) in a particular election. These poll book entries generally mean that a
voter showed up at a poll, or cast an absentee ballot. It is still possible
for a vote to be invalidated later in the process.
In addition to promoting public verification of voter lists, another goal of
the Who Voted project is to spark conversation about the meaning of voting
itself as a socially responsible act. Research by political economist Patricia
Funk has shown that citizens are more likely to participate politically when
the fact that one has voted is publicly visible.
The site’s URL is www.whovoted.net. For more information, contact Todd
Davies (davies at csli dot stanford dot edu).