Georgia’s secretary of state and candidate for state governor in the midterm election, Brian Kemp, has taken the unusual, if not unprecedented step of posting the personal details of 291,164 absentee voters online for anyone to download.
Kemp’s office posted an Excel file on its website within hours of the results of the general election, exposing the names and addresses of state residents who mailed in an absentee ballot — including their reason why, such as if a person is “disabled” or “elderly.”
People on Twitter quickly noticed, expressing anger.
The file, according to the web page, allows Georgia residents to “check the status of your mail-in absentee ballot.” Millions of Americans across the country mail in their completed ballots ahead of election day, particularly if getting to a polling place is difficult — such as if a person is disabled, elderly or traveling.
When reached, Georgia secretary of state’s press secretary Candice Broce told TechCrunch that all of the data “is clearly designated as public information under state law,” and denied that the data was “confidential or sensitive.”
“State law requires the public availability of voter lists, including names and address of registered voters,” she said in an email.
That might be technically true. Voter and electoral roll data is public and available, usually for a fee, though rules vary state by state. Names and addresses of voters can be requested from each state’s electoral commission or secretary of state’s office. Political analytics firms often taken this data and supplement it with their own polling data to try to determine potential swing voters.
State laws put heavy restrictions on what can be done with voter data; rules that may not apply to the general public who can now just readily download hundreds of thousands of voter records.
It’s little surprise that the way Kemp’s office approached confirming absentee ballots was met with anger.
“While the data may already be public, it is not publicly available in aggregate like this,” said security expert Jake Williams, founder of Rendition Infosec, who lives in Georgia. Williams took issue with the reasons that the state gave for each absentee ballot, saying it “could be used by criminals to target currently unoccupied properties.”
“Releasing this data in aggregate could be seen as suppressing future absentee voters in Georgia who do not want their information released in this manner,” he said.
Not long after TechCrunch’s inquiry, the link to the downloadable file had been removed from the website.
Republican candidate for governor Kemp — at the time of writing — received 50.3 percent of the vote on Tuesday, ahead of Democratic rival Stacey Abrams, who currently serves as the minority leader in the state’s House of Representatives.
Kemp, who as secretary of state effectively runs the state’s elections despite running in one, has been accused of voter suppression in recent weeks, including accusing the Democrats of hacking his office’s election systems, citing no evidence. It’s not the first time he’s pulled the hacking card — Kemp tried a similar move two years ago.
Kemp was also responsible for purging the voter records of more than 50,000 minority voters ahead of this week’s elections.
Abrams has refused to concede in the race for governor, amid hopes of a runoff.