Monday, February 6, 2012

Lemming Tracks: States Provide Voter Information (and email addresses - EEEEK!)

If you registered to vote in one of these states, and put your email address on the voter registration form, you'll probably be spammed:
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Missouri
  • Oregon
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • Wisconsin
The government in these states decided to sell email addresses they'd collected during voter registration. Don't worry, though: they didn't sell to just anybody. Only the 'better' sort could buy your address.

States Sell Contact Lists: Legal, Yes; Smart, Dubious

"Move over robo-calls, states sell email addresses for campaigns to reach voters"
Kathleen Foster, (February 6, 2011)

"If your email inbox starts overflowing with messages from political campaigns this election season, it could be because your state sold you out.

"A Fox News study has found 19 states plus the District of Columbia, now ask for an email address on voter registration cards. In nine of those states, email addresses from the cards are then sold to political parties, organizing groups, lawmakers and campaigns who can use them to send unsolicited emails.

"If it were a Viagra ad, it be considered a crime in some states. But a political message, that's all perfectly legal.

"The CAN-SPAM (Controlling the Assault of Non-Solicited Pornography and Marketing) law enacted in 2003 puts restrictions on commercial mass emailing, but not on political mass emailing. Politicians can 'spam' and do. Political messages of any kind, including electronic, are protected free speech under the First Amendment...."

Here's where it gets interesting.

On the one hand, folks who cooperatively gave their email addresses to (some) state governments will be getting a whole lot of more-or-less coherent campaign stuff in their inbox. Assuming that their spam filters don't deal with it first. That could be annoying.

On the other hand, these spam lists are fairly well-focused. The only folks affected are those who:
  • State residents
    • Who registered to vote
      • Presumably have some interest in who
        • Runs
        • Wins
    • Wanted to give their email address
  • Politicos and their ilk
    • Political
      • Parties
      • Organizing groups
      • Lawmakers
      • Campaigns
People who vote presumably want to know something about the candidates they'll support, and the issues they'll support or condemn. That's the idea, anyway: and that's another topic.

Voters could reasonably be expected to be interested in what politicos and their marketing people have to say. Int a way, selling email lists is no more an 'invasion of privacy' than providing a list of names and addresses.

The difference is that it's a whole lot easier, faster, and cheaper, to email than to call or drop envelopes into the United States postal system. That can mean more efficient communication: or massive accumulations of drivel. So much depends on whether the folks sending emails have common sense.

What If the Government Wouldn't Share?

"...'Political communications are not spam. Political communications are a demonstration of free speech in America,' said Stuart Shapiro, president of iConstituent, a Washington, D.C.-based firm which uses state-generated email lists to send messages on behalf of clients on all sides of the political spectrum.

" 'There is a tenet in government that is based on communicating with our constituents, and email is one of the most effective ways to do it,' Shapiro said. 'People look forward to it and want it.'

" 'Politicians love the fact that their perceived freedom of speech is more important than voters' privacy,' said Shaun Dakin, president and CEO of The National Political Do Not Contact Registry, a non-profit voters' rights advocacy group based in Falls Church, Va...."

"Political communications are not spam" is true, to a point. Provided that the states sell lists to all political parties, and keep the cost low enough so that all but the best-funded are excluded. Then there's the potential for excluding parties and candidates who aren't sufficiently green, patriotic, or diverse.

"Privacy," and Getting a Grip

"...Like phone numbers, email addresses are not required to register to vote anywhere in the United States. Giving the information is optional, but that may not be clear to the average voter.

" 'I think this is really one of those untold stories. It's all going on behind the scenes,' said Kim Alexander, president of The California Voter Foundation, a nonprofit organization which produced the study "Voter Privacy in the Digital Age.'..."

Since the Lemming lives in a small town, "privacy" in the sense of anonymity isn't a factor. Like the old gag says, 'if you can't remember where you were today, ask someone: they'll know.' The Lemming loves it here: but folks who want to be part of a faceless crowd probably wouldn't like it. And that's yet another topic.

A key point here is that states aren't demanding email addresses as a voting requirement. That, in the Lemming's opinion, would be as bad an idea as the old pre-civil-rights voter registration requirements that kept the 'wrong sort' away from elections.

And 'not clear to the average voter?' The Lemming suspects that The Masses are nowhere near as stupid, ignorant, or irresponsible, as the establishment believes we are. Yet more topics.

These states ask for email addresses on voter registration forms:
  • Arizona
  • Arkansas
  • California
  • Colorado
  • District of Columbia
  • Delaware
  • Indiana
  • Iowa
  • Maryland
  • Minnesota
  • Missouri
  • Nebraska
  • New Jersey
  • Oregon
  • Rhode Island
  • Tennessee
  • Virginia
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Wyoming

Opting Out/Confirming and Common Sense

"...Receivers of political emails do have the right to opt-out from lists -- they just can't do it in one click. Instead, they must do it with every email they receive, clicking on an "unsubscribe" link, if the email has one or by replying to the sender with 'Remove Me' request.

"Shapiro says few people actually do this.

" 'iConstituent, last year, probably mailed more than a billion email records out throughout all of America for Congress for various other legislators and we have a very, very low unsubscribe rate. It is well under one-tenth of 1 percent.'..."

It's interesting that under 0.1% of folks respond to those "unsubscribe" notices. It may mean that folks on the voter email lists like getting the messages. Or it may mean that they've learned not to respond to such things.

It wasn't all that long ago that the Lemming learned by experience to ignore and delete unwanted email. That was when some outfits were collecting lists of working email addresses by sending to all more-or-less likely possible combinations of name ("local") and domain. Folks who clicked on the 'unsubscribe' link, or sent a 'don't bother me' email back, had confirmed that the email address was in use. And that whoever used it read their email. Spam by the bucket would follow.

Ah, the 'good old days.' Yet again more topics.

Related posts:


Brigid said...

A little repetitive? "The only folks affected are those who:

State residents who"

Wrong word: "It a way, selling email lists"

The Friendly Neighborhood Proofreader

Brian Gill said...


Thanks, and fixed.

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