Perhaps you haven’t voted in a few years because you were traveling in a remote area, you were extremely ill, or you simply did not want to vote in an election in which there were no candidates you felt you could support.
Those reasons matter not to the secretive sender of letters that voters in our area have been receiving; letters which try to shame recipients into voting by listing their voting records since November 2014, as well as the voting records of nearby neighbors who have also received these letters.
The letter from the “Pennsylvania State Voter Report” opens with the question: “WHAT IF YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR NEIGHBORS, AND YOUR COMMUNITY KNEW WHETHER YOU VOTED?”
The Pennsylvania letter that has reached an unknown number of registered voters in our area includes a chart that lists full names, addresses and each person’s voting history for the November 2014, March 2016 and November 2016 elections (i.e. the last three Congressional elections, two of which were general elections and one of which was a primary election).
It concludes with a threat to “out” those who do not vote Tuesday that has been used in other states.
“After the May 15th (Pennsylvania primary) election, we intend to mail an updated chart,” the letter states. “You and your friends, your neighbors, and other people you know will all know who voted and who did not.”
Reports from Other States and Background Information
According to a May 4 news report out of Hendricks County, Indiana–where similar letters are upsetting voters–the voting records they list may be inaccurate, and per state officials the letters should be “disregarded.”
In Indiana, voter participation records are considered public record, but state law restricts their availability to state political parties and legislative caucuses, the story by RTV6 ABC indicates.
In Pennsylvania, that is not the case.
The following information pertaining to access to voter records is from the Pennsylvania Department of State website:
As provided by 25 Pa.C.S. Section 1404(b)(1) (relating to Public Information Lists), as well as the SURE Regulations at 4 Pa. Code Section 184.14(b) (relating to Public Information Lists), the Department of State will provide the Full Voter Export List to requestors.
This version of the Public Information List is a full export of all voters in the county and contains the following fields: voter ID number, name, sex, date of birth, date registered, status (i.e., active or inactive), date status last changed, party, residential address, mailing address, polling place, date last voted, all districts in which the voter votes (i.e., congressional, legislative, school district, etc.), voter history, and date the voter’s record was last changed.
The cost of the Full Voter Export list is 20.00. Upon successful payment an email will be sent to the provided email address.
The Pennsylvania State Voter Report and shadowy organizations like it have been employing this tactic since at least October 2014, according to a Daily Caller article. That article is about a shame-the-voter mailing in Alaska, in which a conservative Oregon man appeared to be the source.
An October 2014 report by Alaska Public Media confirmed that the letters use both “elements of public shaming” and “something of a threat” to try and motivate people to the polls.
With shaming found to be an effective voter motivator by some political scientists, the story states that “groups on both the right and left have used this research in past elections, by sending letters only to people leaning their way.”
Whether shame is an effective voter motivator ultimately doesn’t and shouldn’t matter, because there should never be an opportunity to use public shaming as a motivator in the first place.
There is no law requiring people to vote. And regardless of legality, your voting record shouldn’t be your neighbor’s business or the business of anyone outside of those people with whom you choose to discuss it. The fact that the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania apparently thinks it is acceptable for your neighbors to know your voting history is a big problem.
Voter turnout is admittedly appallingly low in the U.S., but voters should go to the polls for the right reason; because they want to do their civic duty.
A vote inspired by shame or bullying is a wasted vote, because it isn’t one made in the spirit of the principles upon which our country was founded, namely, “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”
Fear that one’s voting habits will become gossip fodder for a next-door neighbor or friend doesn’t jibe with the “pursuit of happiness,” and our Founding Fathers would rightfully be horrified at this perversion of what should be a good thing–governmental transparency–for what may be cynical political purposes.
Instead of holding an emotional gun to the heads of non-voters, the sender or senders of these letters should use positive reinforcement, education and awareness of our political process to encourage everyone to vote.
Saucon Source invites the sender of these letters to publicly identify themselves and tell recipients why they think shaming law-abiding citizens into voting is a good thing for our democracy. We would also like to know why they are hiding from public view, for a search online about the Pennsylvania State Voter Report turns up nothing.
We call on the U.S. Postal Service to investigate an organization that would use a ruse such as the phrase “Important Taxpayer Information Enclosed” (which is printed on the envelope these letters arrive in) on their mailings.
Lastly, we call on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to consider limiting access to voter records in light of the changing use of this information, as demonstrated by the Pennsylvania State Voter Report letter.
If you wish to contact the Pennsylvania State Voter Report about this letter their mailing address obtained from the envelope this letter arrived in is: Pennsylvania State Voter Program, P.O. Box 5371, Harrisburg, PA 17110.
Tuesday, May 15 is Primary Election Day in Pennsylvania. Please vote because your conscience moves you to; not because someone guilted you to. Click here to find your polling place.