Secretary of State Dennis Richardson Announces Voter Privacy Policy Change

Secretary of State Dennis Richardson Announces Voter Privacy Policy Change

SALEM, OR —On June 28, 2017, the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity requested publicly available voter registration information from all 50 states. Secretary Dennis Richardson responded to the Commission with a letter explaining the statutory requirements that apply to everyone who requests a statewide list. The privacy issues raised by the Commission’s request and related media coverage prompted a full legal and policy review by Secretary of State Dennis Richardson.

To ensure protection of Oregon voter information, Secretary Richardson announced today a new policy on what information will be included in statewide voter registration lists. Under Oregon law, anyone who pays $500 is entitled to certain voter information. Consistent with legal advice by Oregon’s Attorney General, effective immediately, Secretary Richardson has stated the following:

“Balancing the need for both privacy and transparency is a critical challenge in the internet age.

“In Oregon, the Secretary of State’s office does not and cannot disclose how a person voted in any election.

“When a statewide request for voters’ information is received, the Secretary of State’s office does not disclose a voter’s social security number, driver’s license number, signature, or disability information.

“Although previous Oregon Secretaries of State routinely disclosed voters’ phone numbers and birth month/day, due to the present capacities for digital mining and widespread dissemination of personal information, such information shall remain private from now until the legislature reconvenes next year.

“The legislature has enacted laws that require statewide voter lists to be publicly available, and this serves the critical public policy interest of ensuring transparency and accountability in the conduct of elections. I encourage the legislature to comprehensively review the statutes governing publicly available voter information in the 2018 session; this new private information policy will serve as a stopgap until the legislature decides to update the law.”

Thus, until the legislature changes Oregon public disclosure law, the following information will be available to all requesting parties who pay the $500 fee and agree to not use the information for commercial purposes: full name, address, effective registration date and status, birth year, political party affiliation, voter participation history, precinct name, precinct split, and associated Election Division number. Disclosure of the above information is either required by law or necessary to ensure full accountability for the conduct of elections. In addition, Oregon law does not allow disclosure of certain information about public safety officers, participants in the Address Confidentiality Program (for victims of domestic violence and other crimes), persons who demonstrate that their personal safety is in danger, and 16 or 17 years-olds who preregister to vote but will not reach age 18 by the date of the next election.

Yesterday we received a second request for voter information from the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. It addresses the concerns voiced by myself and many other Secretaries of State over the importance of maintaining the privacy of voter information. To address these concerns, Vice Chair Kobach clarified three areas of critical concern:

1.        Only information that is already available to the public under Oregon law is being requested;

2.       The only information that will be made public by the Commission are statistical conclusions drawn from the data; and

3.       The Commission will not release any personally identifiable information from voter registration records to the public.

However, as the letter did not contain the mandatory fee of $500 required by Oregon state law [ORS 247.945(4)], Secretary Richardson is still unable to release the statewide voter list. 

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