While it may have raised concerns among some South Carolina voters to learn that a GOP party leader was buying voter data to give to a national panel probing voter fraud, the sale of voter information by the state is not uncommon.
Political parties, consultants, campaigns and individuals all regularly buy data sets from the State Election Commission for various reasons.
But the data released, officials said, are basic voter facts and excludes sensitive information such as Social Security numbers, criminal convictions or who a voter picked in any election.
“It’s all literally public information,” said Hope Walker, executive director of the South Carolina Republican Party.
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Just what is included in data sales became a concern for some Thursday when the chairman of the state’s Republican Party, Drew McKissick, said he planned to buy a voter data set to give to the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity after South Carolina’s election commission denied the panel’s request for the information.
The State Election Commission estimated the cost for the data set at $2,500. It offered some recommendations to the presidential panel but no data.
“After careful consideration of your request and applicable state laws, we have concluded the SEC does not have the authority to provide publicly available voter roll data to the Commission,” Marci Andino, executive director of the SEC, wrote to the presidential panel, according to a copy of the letter released late Thursday.
Chris Whitmire, a spokesman for the SEC, said the basic data sets include county, voter registration number, first, middle and last name; suffix; residence address, mailing address; gender,·race, registration date, date of birth, date last voted, precinct code and name; and election districts.
“The standard statewide list also includes whether a voter has participated in the last two statewide primaries and general elections,” he said. “But depending on how it’s ordered you can get a participation list for any past election.”
The state has about 3.1 million registered voters, according to the election commission.
Some voters have expressed concern that data is being sold or distributed.
“With the amount of identity theft in this country and the hacking of government and businesses, I do not want my information given to anyone,” Janet Fitzgerald Craig posted on The Greenville News Facebook page.
Neil Knight posted that “I didn’t register to vote so my info could be shared with any fed agency or commission that decided they want it. Resist centralization.”
Francesca Crolley wondered in her post how the election commission was going to secure their Social Security numbers and “other personal information or how it’s going to be stored or used.”
But others shrugged at the idea of the information being sold or given to others.
“What are liberals afraid of?” asked Scott Geer in a post. “Finding out we have dead people voting in South Carolina?”
Walker said buying the data sets is “common practice.”
“We get this after every election,” she said. “And we’re not the only people who do it. Campaigns, consultants, other political parties. We purchase it for voter data so we know what voters we can maybe send a mail list to or phone calls to,”
She said one reason is to help identify those who vote so they can urge voters to go to the polls for the next election.
The presidential commission had sent letters to each state’s secretary of state requesting various publicly available voter roll data, including full names, dates of birth, party affiliation, voter history since 2006, active or inactive status, any felony convictions, information regarding voter registration in another state, military status and the last four digits of voters’ Social Security numbers.
In the letter, Kris Kobach, vice chairman of the commission, said the panel was requesting the data to “fully analyze vulnerabilities and issues related to voter registration and voting.”
In its statement, the state Election Commission said it would have denied any similar request from any group outside South Carolina.
“At no time does the SEC release Social Security Numbers, in whole or in part, to anyone, whether a voter or not,” the commission said. “The SEC has no data on a voter’s party affiliation, as South Carolina does not have registration by party. At no time does the SEC have any information about how people vote.”
According to CNN, 44 states have refused to provide certain types of information to the commission.
President Donald Trump created the commission in May, months after he said he believed millions of people had voted illegally in the 2016 presidential election. Vice President Mike Pence chairs the commission.
Kobach’s letter also asked for information on voter fraud, registration fraud, information on any election-related crimes, and recommendations to prevent voter intimidation, voter disenfranchisement and changes to “enhance the integrity of federal elections.”
Andino suggested in her letter that the federal government provide for improved communication between states and federal intelligence and law enforcement agencies.
She also recommended federal funding for enhancements to “critical election infrastructure” such as data security and replacement of voting systems.