Ohio should improve voter privacy


Prior to the Nov. 3 elections, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted’s office unveiled a new website — myohiovote.com.

The website was created to allow Ohio voters to check the status of their voter registration or to find the location of their polling precinct. It is a helpful, easy-to-use tool for voters across the Buckeye State.

To get this info, a myohiovote.com map redirects users to their county’s board of elections websites.

Upon being directed to 64 of Ohio’s 88 county boards, however, one needs merely to type a first and last name of a registered voter to get that voter’s home address, the voter’s party affiliation (if declared) and in which elections that voter has participated — a surprising amount of information instantly available to anyone with internet access.

The remaining 24 Ohio counties have more stringent requirements to access a voter’s information, such as entry of the person’s home address and/or date of birth.

I contacted a number of state legislators regarding the ease by which voters’ personal information is made available to the public. Without exception, their responses prescribed to the notion that “transparency” outweighs “privacy” when it comes to Ohio’s voter database.

However, here’s what politicians, both in Ohio and nationwide, are not willing to openly admit: Because the voter database gives them your home address and party affiliation, it provides an easy way for them to market their message to you. The reality is, their “campaigning” outweighs your “privacy,” and the only thing “transparent” is your personal information.

Ever wonder why you get a ton of junk mail during an election year, and most of it, if not all, is from the party with which you are registered? This is why.

The database also allows the Democratic and Republican parties to target independent voters.

While getting election-year junk mail is an annoyance, the crux of the matter is that in 64 Ohio counties, if you are a registered voter, your personal information can be accessed by persons even less trustworthy than politicians.

There does exist an opt-out for law enforcement officers, court officials and other government employees whose careers may put them at special risk from the criminal class. They are allowed to submit a form to their local board of elections to have their personal information redacted.

Average Joe and Jill Ohio, though, do not, as of yet, have this option.

In early October, Ohio Representatives Mike Duffey and Anne Gonzales introduced a bill, House Bill 359 — the “Safe at Home” Act — which is intended to “create an address confidentiality program for victims of domestic violence, menacing by stalking, human trafficking, trafficking in persons, rape, sexual battery, and other crimes.” This proposal currently sits in the House’s Government Accountability and Oversight Committee.

A reasonable and necessary step, to be sure, but what about the rest of us?

Why should anyone, other than you and yours, be able to so easily access your home address, your party affiliation and in which elections you have voted?

As much as it pains me as a reporter, as I am instinctively nosy, the clear answer is, “They shouldn’t.”

The Ohio Secretary of State should direct all 88 county boards of elections to make their voter registration websites uniform, with added layers of security. It is not an oppressive burden to be required to enter a first and last name, an address and a date of birth to check the status of your voter registration. This is less information than is needed to make a purchase on Amazon or eBay.

And if improved voter privacy cuts down on your junk mail in 2016, consider it a bonus.

By Erik Martin

[email protected]

Erik Martin may be reached at 937-569-4314. Join the conversation and get updates on Facebook search Darke County Sports or Advocate 360. For more features online go to dailyadvocate.com.

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