Personal info shared in Idaho Democratic Party mailer, 'Vote with Me' app irks some voters

The Idaho Democratic Party mailer includes a "voter score card," reminding the individual of whether they have voted in recent elections.

BOISE — We're getting down to the final days of decision 2018 - exactly a week away.

Over the last couple months you've no doubt noticed all of the 'get out the vote' efforts. One local campaign and another nation-wide app recently caught our eyes.

An absentee ballot request mailer sent out by the Idaho Democratic Party and a cell phone app both use your individual voter information. Before you get worried, you need to know that all the information they use is already public record.

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In this day and age, so much of our personal information is out in the open. But when it comes to voting, that gets a little sensitive.

“Telling people whether or not they voted definitely gets people pretty emotional,” Idaho Democratic Party Political Director Shelby Scott said.

The Idaho Democratic Party mailers have that info.

"It has voters' address on the outside then on the other side it has a voter score card,” Scott said.

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It says on each individual mailer whether or not that individual voted in the last four general elections.

"We were sending to registered democrats, then anyone we think is likely to vote for a democratic candidate or has expressed support in the past," Scott said. "We like to send these to people who maybe aren't likely to vote so we just make the process easier for them."

On the inside is a prompt to fill out an absentee ballot.

“We heard a lot of different things some people were really upset it was on the outside of the mailer," Scott said. "But as soon as they’d open it up and realize we were making it easier to vote they actually kind of said thank you.”

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A popular app called Vote With Me is also using voter information in a controversial way - it sparked a lot of questions in our newsroom and out in the community when we spoke with people. It pulls up your contacts and encourages the user to text their contacts, nudging them to vote. It also shows which contacts are registered like you.

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"Now I see the point - encouraging somebody else to vote. Then I think it makes great sense,” Idaho voter David Fitch said.

But the app pulls your contacts' voting record and more, including their name, what elections they've voted in and their party affiliation.

“... I think that's fairly private. It’s pretty basic information but yeah, I don’t know if I would want - just for the sake of my own privacy - people needing to know all that,” voter Annie Shellerud said. “Maybe that’s a little bit much. Yeah, I don’t know if that’s a little too invasive maybe of personal privacy,”

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“The general idea of it is good,” she added.

"I don't think we have a whole lot of private information anymore,” Fitch said.

But all that information is public, as is your address and possibly phone number should you choose to provide it in voter registration records.

“A lot of people just don’t understand or know their voting information is public record so we definitely had to tell people where we got info from,” Scott said.

Each secretary of state's office holds voter registration lists. You or I can request it, but we can only legally use it for political purposes and not commercial. Your driver's license number or social security number and your date of birth are private information.

“Your ballot is secret, there's no way that they could tell who you voted for,” Idaho Secretary of State Lawerence Denney said. “It shows whether you vote. Doesn't show who you vote for."

Now, we can get all the public voting info literally at our fingertips.

"Specifically getting a text from somebody you know is many many times more effective than getting a text you regard as spam from a number you don't know,” The New Data Project Executive Director Mikey Dickerson said.

Progressive group The New Data Project, which pushes people to get out the democratic vote, created the Vote With Me smart phone app and Dickerson says there is room for error in what you may find about yourself and your friends.

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“The data takes a long and winding path between ballot box and my data base and there are mistakes that happen in there too,” Dickerson told KTVB.

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Including party registration and voter history in the app is based on a school of research known as social pressure voting, Dickerson says.“The goal of doing all that is to create conditions where the norm can emerge where your friends will notice and be surprised if you didn't vote in the election,” he added.

The app knows where you're registered to vote and has helpful information like big races on your ballot, election day information, early voting dates, and your voting rights. To reiterate: this app’s description in the app store and website show it is intended to make an impact in voter turnout that would benefit democratic candidates.