Voter privacy concerns raised again

The 2014 election may be remembered as the starting point for a new and novel kind “get-out-the-vote” tactic: threatening people with public humiliation if they don’t turn out to vote.

People who have received such messages have described them as “Orwellian” and complained that they are an invasion of privacy.

But another problem, it turns out, is that groups sending out those messages don’t always get their facts right.

Case in point: a group calling itself the Kansas State Voter Report recently sent out emails to some Kansas voters with the headline, “What if your friends, your neighbors, and your community knew whether you voted?”

“We’re sending this e-mail to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work, and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote,” the email continues.

It includes a chart showing the names and addresses of several people in the recipient’s neighborhood, with information about whether they had cast ballots in four recent elections.

But Michael Kelly, a Lawrence resident who was listed on one such email as not having voted in 2008, said that information is patently false.

“My voter registration in 2008 was in Virginia where I was serving my country working in the Pentagon as a federal civil servant,” Kelly wrote back in an email copied to the Journal-World. “My wife was by my side working as an elementary school reading teacher for the Fairfax County VA public schools. We both voted (legally in Virginia state and US federal elections) in November 2008.”

By law, records of the voters who cast ballots in any election are public record, although the choices they make on their ballots is secret. But not until recently have groups thought to use the names of people who don’t vote as a tool of embarrassment to pressure people into going to the polls.

The emails by the Kansas State Voter Report came on the heels of similar postcards mailed out to voters by the Kansas Democratic Party. But party officials say the emails are from an entirely different group, headed by a conservative oil executive in Oregon.

State Democratic Party chairwoman Joan Wagnon said the campaigns are based on research showing that, while the messages may be perceived as offensive, they also are effective in getting low- or medium-propensity voters to get out and vote.

Election 2014: More coverage of the various races and updated results once the polls close at 7 p.m. on Nov. 4.