We're now two weeks out from the 2012 primary and about five months from the general election. As phones ring and flyers slip through mail slots with increasing frequency, a broader question comes to mind: How the hell do these campaigns get our info?
The average voter might not realize this, but the culprit is actually you. Remember all those boxes you filled in on your voter registration form: name, address, phone number, favorite breakfast cereal, yada yada yada? Yeah. All that gets compiled by county elections offices and passed up the ladder. It's known as a voter file, and it's available to any campaign (read: all of them) willing to pay a fee to the Montana Secretary of State's office.
SOS spokesperson Terri McCoy says Montana charges $5,000 for a one-year online subscription to the statewide voter file or $1,000 for a one-time download. The subscription includes an absentee ballot report as well, which lists all voters who cast their ballots by mail. McCoy explains that the absentee report can be particularly revealing: For campaigns, it indicates which voters should be targeted when ballots are mailed out in early May.
It may seem fishy, the state selling voter names and addresses for so much dinero, but all that is public record and online access to the voter file was mandated by an act of Congressthe Help America Vote Actback in 2002. Don't worry. Certain sensitive information is protected, such as your driver's license and Social Security numbers. The only way to get your physical address removed from the file, however, is by court order.
Montana isn't the only one compiling this sort of information. State political parties typically reorganize the voter file into their own databases. Other organizations compile their own, such as Montana Conservation Voters, which earlier this month called members to endorse attorney general candidate Pam Bucy and gubernatorial hopeful Steve Bullock. For-profit companies like Media One LLC sell demographically targeted information, databases that break out voter intel based on party allegiance, ethnicity, even gun ownership.
The long and short of it is that your personal information is worth a lot. And in this day and age, campaigns have more than enough money to get it.