Your Vote Is Private But Your Life Is Public

SPOKANE — While your vote in the presidential primary remains secret personal information you placed on your ballot won’t.

Political parties and anyone with access to the internet can look up information about every registered voter and it comes courtesy of a requirement under federal law.

It’s the price you pay if you want to be a voter: The federal government requires states to keep a voter registration database to prevent voter fraud. Not only will political parties know which party you selected on your primary ballot but others can find out when you were born, and where you live.

One after another voters in downtown Spokane were surprised when given their personal information that had been entered on their ballots. One of them, James Paterson, felt it was disconcerting that his personal information was readily available on the internet, but if Paterson wants to vote he has no choice but to make what he thought was private public.

Since 2006 that public information has been contained in a state-wide database which can now be found fairly easily online.

Rebecca Osterback doesn’t like knowing some of her information can be seen by others; she’s already had her identity stolen.

“You wonder if your social security number is on there as well,” Osterback said.

Fortunately you won’t find your social security number listed, however you will find your name, birthdate, where you live and your voter registration number. That information helps election officials prevent voter fraud. In fact, the database has already caught thousands of duplicate registrations.

Knowing that the database is cracking down on voter fraud, Thomas Stiritz is fine having his personal information made public.

“We certainly need to do that, don’t we?” he asked.

James Paterson believes on the other hand that the state needs to look for an alternative.

“I don’t think that should be out there especially with all of the identity thefts that happen these days,” Paterson said.

In addition to your name, address and birthday if you include your phone number on the ballot envelope, which you don’t have to, that’s also considered public, and so is the signature on the ballot envelope. Anyone can go to the elections office and request to see and copy your signature. 

County auditors across the state have proposed legislation to protect that signature.