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Election officials selling your personal info to political campaigns

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Photo: Video by fox4now.com

Election officials selling your personal info to political campaigns

By Matt Grant. CREATED Oct 5, 2012

ALVA, Fla. - Your personal information is being sold to political campaigns to help them win - but is it hurting you?

When Cecil Higgins filled out his absentee ballot request he was asked for his email address and thought it would only be used by election officials.

"I figured it wouldn't go any further," said Higgins. "I thought that was confidential information."

But it's not confidential. When you give the county your phone number or email address that information becomes public record - and can be bought by anyone for $50.

Two weeks later, Higgins got an email with the subject line: "Your Lee County Absentee Ballot Request."

"I figured that was something from the Department of Elections," said Higgins.

It was actually a campaign email from Lee Bushong, a candidate for Lee County Sheriff.

"Is there a list out there that has all my information that I thought was confidential?," asked Higgins. "But it really turned out not to be confidential?"

Actually, yes.

Lee County Supervisor of Elections Sharron Harrington says, by law, anyone can request your voter registration. The $50 amount is an office fee to compile the information.

"Phone numbers and email addresses are not exempt," said Harrington. "They are part of public record."

So when you fill out those forms, if you give the county your phone number or email address, for $50 any campaign can buy that information and spam you until Election Day.

"What would you say to a voter who feels like your office is selling their personal information?," asked Fox 4 reporter Matt Grant.

"Well, it's public record," said Harrington. "All of the voter registration information is public record by law."

So how many candidates are requesting your information?

"Pretty much everyone," said Harrington.
 
Candidates like Bushong who says it's a cheap way to target voters and get his message out. The email sent to Higgins was Bushong's biography - so why did he call it "Your Absentee Ballot Request?"

Fox 4 asked Bushong if that was misleading.

"This is in regards to their absentee ballot so I don't think so at all," said Bushong by phone.

"To be fair," said Grant, "the email's not about the absentee ballot, it's about your campaign."

"Oh absolutely it is," said Bushong. "And, you know, but, I'm appearing on the absentee ballot."

A reminder, Higgins says, that his vote comes with a price.

"I look forward to voting," said Higgins, who says he was undecided but will not be casting a ballot for Bushong now.

"It just is disheartening," said Higgins, "When you find out [your vote] is being used as a marketing tool."

Election officials say phone numbers and email addresses aren't required but are useful in case they need to get a hold of you - but once you give it to them it's then considered public record.

Harrington says you can call the Elections office any time to have your personal information removed.

Matt Grant
mgrant@fox4now.com