Election letter angers voters
An official-looking letter sent out in advance of the election has puzzled voters, and led election officials to question its source.
The letter supposedly comes from “Pennsylvania State Voter Report,” but there’s no such publication or agency at the Capitol.
“What if your friends, your neighbors, and your community knew whether you voted?” says the letter. It then lists neighbors’ names and addresses, and whether they voted in elections in 2014 and 2016.
Times News readers said they were taken aback to open their mail and read about information they didn’t know was public.
Michelle Soto said she was outraged and contacted her state representative. Others had the same reaction.
“I am a very patriotic American and enjoy voting but I didn’t appreciate my address and voting statuses being displayed to everyone,” Danielle Pickett said.
Sue Anthony questioned whether the data was accurate after she and her husband received letters with seemingly contradictory information.
Carbon County Democratic Committe Chairman Billy O’Gurek said he heard from at least one family who said that several Lansford residents received it.
“He said his mother and everybody around here all got the same thing,” he said.
Voting data is public in the state of Pennsylvania. If a person or organization pays the state, they can get a list of registered voters and their addresses, as well as data on whether or not they voted in an election. Who those votes were for is not part of the information, however.
O’Gurek said while it may be legal, it’s not a responsible use of the data.
“It’s not the spirit of the law. You should try to encourage people to vote for the right reasons. This is almost like a scare tactic,” he said.
O’Gurek said he wasn’t sure whether the vote would have its intended purpose. He expected low turnout for Tuesday’s primary.
The Carbon County Election Bureau received a lot of calls on Monday about the mailing. Many of the recipients got the letter on Saturday.
Director of Elections Lisa Dart, who received one of the letters herself, said her office has been getting questions about the data. She said that her office is also obligated to release names and addresses upon request, under state law.
Dart said she thinks the letter will have the opposite of its intended effect upon voter turnout.
“Now that other people know that they’re voting, they’re mad, so they may not want to vote,” she said.
State Rep. Doyle Heffley, who is unopposed in the Republican primary, condemned the letters, saying his wife had received one as well. He called the letters a bullying tactic.
“While whether someone voted in past elections is a matter of public record, I don’t believe these records should be used, as is the apparent case with these letters, to shame someone into voting.
Heffley said he contacted the state Attorney General’s office to see if the senders broke any state laws. He called it cowardly for the sender to hide behind a post office box and an official-sounding name to intimidate voters.
The Department of State issued a statement saying they are not in any way affiliated with the mailing, but it appears that they utilized real data from the state.
“Voters in other states have received nearly identical letters this month, indicating this may be part of a national effort,” spokesman Wanda Murren said.