Americans for Limited Government political mailing fuels worries over invasions of privacy

Vote history audit showing up in mailboxes

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. - Long a staple of election year politics, a new mailing being delivered to the mailboxes of people in 19 states has fueled worries over invasions of privacy.

Americans for Limited Government , a self-described non-partisan group created to advance what it described as core American liberties, sent a mailing titled "Vote Audit History" to 2.7 million people, including nearly a quarter million people in Florida.

The mailing tells recipients that Americans for Limited Government "conducted an audit of public voting records in your neighborhood and wanted to present you findings of past civic participation in your community."

The single-page mailing lists the names and addresses of voters and their neighbors and whether they voted in 2004 and 2008.

It does not disclose who they voted for but closes with a reminder that it would send an updated voting history audit after Election Day.

"My first reaction was, "Why it is anybody's business? " asked Bonnie Billing, a West Palm Beach resident. "It was just completely inaccurate. I voted in every election period."

The Fairfax, Virginia-based group, which used public records to obtain the information, said the mailings had a singular purpose and had been sent to encourage more people to vote on Election Day.

"We firmly believe that people who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in selecting our leaders are abandoning not just their right to a say but are diminishing everyone's rights," said Richard Manning, a communications director for Americans for Limited Government. "We all need to express our views."

Asked about whether some mailings had listed incorrect voting records, Manning said, "an extremely small percentage had entry errors."

Though the information the group obtained for the mailing is a public record, elections officials and political analysts in Florida and elsewhere were surprised by how it was used.

"It's an invasion of privacy," said Timothy Gilbert, a professor at Northwood University. "The intent might be a good one to try to get people to vote that haven't voted but the method is, I think, a pretty nasty method."

The mailing was part of nearly $1 billion spending blitz by candidates, political parties and their supporters.

"If I were to walk up to a neighbor who happens to be on that list and they were to say 'Oh, well, you need to vote, you didn't vote the previous two times,' you know, that's just wrong on all levels. It really is," Billing said.

In Indiana, where state officials received numerous complaints from voters, Secretary of State Connie Lawson told voters to disregard the letter .

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