When New Hampshire Secretary of State Bill Gardner said he intended to share information from the state’s public voter checklists with a newly launched Trump administration commission, plenty of people were quick to decry the move as an “invasion of privacy.”
But this debate over the decision to turn over voter data to the Trump commission has also highlighted a gap in public awareness around the state’s elections: A lot of people don’t seem to realize this same information is already being bought and sold and shared on a regular basis, all thanks to a law that gives political parties and committees the ability to buy batches of voter data from the Secretary of State.
If you’ve voted in any New Hampshire election in the last decade, some of your information has likely already been shared with a number of political groups, some rooted in New Hampshire, others whose only tie to the state is a signature from a willing resident on the political committee registration form.
Thanks to a law passed in 2007, any organization registered as a political party or a political committee is allowed to buy copies of the statewide voter checklist, which contain the same kind of information Secretary of State Bill Gardner is now planning to hand over to the Trump administration: voter names, mailing addresses, domicile addresses, party affiliations and voting history. The campaigns then combine that data with other data sets and use it to “microtarget” voters with mailers, phone calls and other tools of modern campaigns.
While the same information is technically “public” for anyone to view, the privilege of copying and sharing that data isn’t available to the average New Hampshire resident. Instead, members of the public who want their own up-to-date versions of the voter checklists would have to purchase local versions from each individual town.
This provision is part of the reason why people are objecting to Gardner's plans to share the data with the Trump commission in the first place. Opponents point out that the law has specific criteria for what kind of groups can buy copies of the statewide checklist, and a presidential commission isn't one of them.
Since New Hampshire started offering its voter checklist to political groups, records provided by the Secretary of State’s office show that these files have been an especially hot commodity for national political data firms.
One Washington-based company that bills itself as “the data utility powering the progressive community” has accounted for more than a quarter of all New Hampshire checklist sales since 2008. According to its website, Catalist “compiles, enhances, stores, and dynamically updates data on over 240 million unique voting-age individuals across all 50 states and the District of Columbia.”
As part of that mission, they’ve spent more than $190,000 on nearly two dozen copies of New Hampshire voter files.
Three other entities, “Independent Data,” “Free State Data” and “Granite State Freedom PAC,” have each spent about $49,000 on their own copies of the checklist.
The person listed as the chairman on the paperwork for both Independent Data and Free State Data is Michael Palmer, who TIME once profiled as “the Koch Brothers’ Data Guru.”
Palmer is behind the Virginia-based data firm i360, which boasts on its website that it maintains “1800 unique data points” on “199 million active voters” to give clients “the full picture of who they are, where they live, what they do and what is happening around them.”
Granite State Freedom PAC has ties to another out-of-state data firm, L2 Political, which is based in Washington state and claims it’s “the country’s leading provider of high quality enhanced voter data and customized data processing.”
On a more local level, state political parties have also been frequent buyers of these checklists.
The New Hampshire Republican Party has spent more than $148,000 on 18 copies of updated voter files over the years, purchasing a new one as recently as June 5. The New Hampshire Democratic Party has spent more than $99,000 on 12 copies of the voter file through the years, buying its most recent version on April 6.
Candidates for state office are also allowed to buy copies of the checklist information for their district.
Last year, Congressional District Candidate Shawn O’Connor purchased a copy of the voter file for the First Congressional District for $3,215 from the state.
And if voters are unhappy to learn their information is already being traded in this way, there’s not much they can do about it.
“There is no provision in state statute for a voter to “opt out” of having their name appear on the checklist,” Deputy Secretary of State Dave Scanlan said Monday. “Names are removed from the checklist due to death, moving out of a town or ward, conviction of a felony offense or not voting in an election for at least two election cycles after proper notification.”
So for now, if you’d at least like to learn more about what kind of groups might be holding onto this information already, check out the data (provided by the Secretary of State’s office) below.