Secretary of the State Denise W. Merrill is looking to reduce the amount of information publicly available through voter rolls in the hopes of protecting residents from identify theft.
“You don’t have to go too far to see the problems,” she said about identity theft. “I mean, almost everyone has been impact by breaches.”
Merrill’s proposed legislation wouldn’t change the fact that a statewide list of registered voters, compiled from each town’s voter rolls, is available for purchase through her office for $350. It would change disclosure laws so that only a voter’s year of birth would be included in that data.
A voter’s date of birth is currently publicly available. Merrill said someone could use that information to steal an identity.
Merrill said she heard concerns from “thousands” of residents after the Presidential Advisory Commission on Voter Integrity, which President Donald Trump commissioned to investigate his complaints of voter fraud, asked all 50 states for their voter rolls.
Merrill was among dozens of secretaries of state, Democrat and Republican, who balked at the request, citing concerns about privacy.
Merrill also wants legislation that would prohibit people from purchasing the list for commercial use.
Tom Alciere, of New Hampshire, purchased Connecticut’s 2013 list and charged voters $5 each to have their information removed from his website. Political committees, researchers, and journalists could still purchase the list, but anyone who used the information for commercial purposes would be charged with a Class C felony.
Merrill said she believes her proposal strikes a balance between privacy concerns and Connecticut’s Freedom of Information Act.
“The FOI laws are there for a reason — government shouldn’t be collecting information on people that’s secret,” she said. “On the other hand, I think the public has a legitimate interest in protecting their private data against identity theft.”
Tom Swan, executive director of the Connecticut Citizen Action Group, said he “appreciates the fact” that Merrill is trying to protect voters’, but there’s “fine line” between privacy and public disclosure.
Swan, who said he was generally aware of what Merrill is seeking to do but hadn’t seen her proposal, also said he wants to make sure any changes don’t affect advocacy groups that use the list to reach the public.
“It’s really important that we get the details,” he said.