(TNS) — HARTFORD, Conn. — In this age of cyber theft and Russian hackers breaking down digital firewalls from the other side of the globe, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill wants to make it harder to steal Connecticut voter identities.
Merrill this year will ask the General Assembly to scrub voter birth dates from registration records, while giving people the option of requesting that their information be kept from public scrutiny.
Speaking to reporters on Wednesday in her Capitol office, Merrill said that some hackers can glean enough information to threaten peoples’ identities, while others can sell voter lists - available for $300 - to marketers.
She said that the proposals, which she expects will be raised for public hearings in the legislative Government Administration & Elections Committee, are the result of requests for more safety from voters.
But the state leader of a national voter watchdog organization is skeptical about the proposal, since the vast majority of personal data is already available elsewhere.
“It’s really about the privacy, or openness of the voter file,” said Merrill, who last summer declined to release state voter records to the controversial now-defunct Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity. She said that as many as 2,500 voters emailed her to voice concerns on the potential release of their registration information.
“I think my concern is that when people register to vote, they should only be concerned with their voting, and which candidates they are going to choose and how they are going to vote, and they shouldn’t have to worry that their personal information is being compromised, and that’s what they are worried about,” Merrill said.
Currently, names, addresses, dates of birth and phone numbers are public information, while driver-license numbers, Social Security information and email addresses are exempt from disclosure. Under her proposal, the birth year would be listed for public consumption.
“Now people are aware that the voter file is another one of those databases open to the public,” Merrill said. “I don’t think we should be purveyors of data.” She also wants to limit the purposes for which the voter list can be used, prohibiting its use for commercial purposes.
“That’s another impetus for all this is the cybersecurity issues that are now front and center,” she said. “Just yesterday we had the testimony in Congress about the cybersecurity of elections and the Russian hacking and the Russian interference with elections. That was actually another reason I felt very strongly that centralizing the voter file of the entire United States in Washington, was a very bad idea.”
But Cheri Quickmire, executive director of Common Cause in Connecticut, the election advocacy organization, said Merrill’s proposals are troubling.
“I understand she is very concerned with voter privacy,” Quickmire said of the secretary of the state. “But there is the recognition that the information she is concerned about is readily accessible through the Internet. It does concern me that information that has been public heretofore might be withheld. I don’t think a new law would prevent might prevent bad actors from getting access to the voter-registration data.”
In recent decades the General Assembly has tightened its grip on public disclosure, exemption motor vehicle data from disclosure and shielding personal information about state judges, law enforcement officials and even prison guards.
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