The US Needs to Do Better on Voter Privacy

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Rebecca Schaeffer was a Hollywood actress who had appeared in a few TV shows and movies in the 1980s. In the late 80s, a man from Arizona began stalking her, and in 1989 that man murdered her with a gun as she stood in the doorway of her LA home.

That man found out where Schaeffer lived by paying a private investigator $250 to call someone in California and have them get the address from the DMV, which at the time made addresses publicly available. Schaeffer’s death led to new anti-stalking measures in California, plus a crackdown on the DMV releasing personal information.

Unfortunately, her tragic death did not do more to prevent private information from being made public by the government, because today your address is publicly available to anyone who wants it if you are registered to vote.

I know all this because an insane man made a YouTube video a few years ago in which he mentioned my address, which he had accessed via voter registration rolls. I was alerted to this fact by a woman who this man had been stalking for several years as he moved in and out of prison. She was concerned for my safety because the man mentioned my address along with talking about how similar I was to Rebecca Schaeffer. That was fun.

I had just moved to a new address, and so I decided I would not update my address for voting. I didn’t update my driving license and I didn’t change my voter registration.

Nonetheless, I soon received an updated voter registration card at my new address.

I learned that in order to remove my information from the voter rolls, I would have to be a victim of domestic violence, or else convince a domestic violence shelter to help me get into the “Safe At Home” program for victims of domestic violence. I could then get a special PO Box and a letter from the Secretary of State asserting that I had no physical address for whenever I wanted to open a bank account or get my driver’s license. To vote, I would need to travel to the county registrar’s office and get a special ballot.

At the time, I was in an absolute pit of depression and anxiety, and those steps were all too much for me, so I considered getting a gun. Unfortunately, I am severely depressed and owning a gun would increase my risk of suicide 100-fold. So instead I got a dog that I could train to protect me. I was told he was a German shepherd mix. That was…not accurate.

I’ve watched with interest this election, as people rightfully freak out about suddenly learning they weren’t on the voter rolls anymore. It’s an awful mode of disenfranchising voters, but I couldn’t help feeling super jealous every time another one popped up on my Twitter feed. There have definitely been times I would gladly give up my vote in exchange for safety.

In calmer moments I accept that braver people than me gave up their actual lives so I could vote, so I should accept the risks. But I shouldn’t have to do that. I should be able to cast a vote for people to represent me and be safe knowing that a stalker can’t find me and kill me. And so should you. We need to fix this system. The day after this week’s election, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, published online the full names and addresses of everyone who filed an absentee ballot. That’s insane. The same guy who made every effort to suppress votes in order to win, managed to fuck over the few people who were still able to vote. It’s disgusting, and we need serious, nationwide reform to protect privacy.

While I’m waiting for that to happen, at least I have Indy to keep me safe. Sure, he doesn’t have that intimidating German shepherd look I was hoping for, but he growled like a wolf and scared a dude who tried to harass me on the street once. Cute but deadly. Just my type.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon mstdn.social/@rebeccawatson Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky @rebeccawatson.bsky.social

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  1. I agree that this needs to be fixed. A basic right such as voting should never interfere with a citizen’s right to privacy.
    I have a similar story which you might more expect from a more right wing person ( I am, I feel quite progressive):

    The local newspaper for my tri-county area decided that it would be a good idea to have an interactive map on their webpage that pointed out every address of every person who had a pistol permit in that area. I have several pistols that I have not even fired for many years.

    I now had to worry about someone “staking” out my house to steal those pistols.

  2. It’s ridiculously how easily accessible voter information is. Via link from a friend, I was able to download an entire file of data about absentee voters in an unnamed state… names, addresses, etc. Besides that, I was contacted numerous times via my cellphone by campaigns, and I have no idea how they got my number.

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