Mystery Vote-Shaming Mailer Reveals Neighbors' Voting Histories
"What if your friends, your neighbors, and your community knew whether or not you voted?"
So begins an official-looking letter mailed to voters around the Los Angeles before Tuesday's citywide election.
The letter arrived in an envelope marked with a seal and a bold red "Important Taxpayer Information Enclosed." The envelope is marked by the California Voter Awareness Project—a group which bears no website, no Facebook page, no return address, no history.
"After the May 16, 2017 election, we intend to mail an updated chart," the letter continues. A chart with the recipient's voting history in the previous three elections is marked ("voted" or "did not vote") with a "?" beneath "May 16, 2017," the date of Tuesday's election.
"You and your friends, your neighbors, and other people you know will all know who voted and who did not vote. Do Your Civic Duty—Vote!"
But whatever the mailer's intended reaction was, many recipients have grown enraged.
"I got this in the mail today," Elizabeth Hines, a court reporter from Burbank posted to Facebook along with a photo of the mailer, reports the Los Angeles Times. "Whoever the California Voter Awareness Project is, they are intending to let all your neighbors know if you voted or not. They have no return address, not even a Zip code. No website or Facebook page. There is no way to find out who these cowards are. And, yes, we as taxpayers are footing the bill to have this sent through the USPO. As far as I am concerned, they have invaded my privacy and my neighbors' privacy. I don't give a rat's ass if my neighbors vote. If anyone knows how to get ahold of these cowards, please let me know. I have a few more things to say to them."
“Those who employ such tactics should be aware that state law expressly prohibits the use of election data to harass voters or voter households,” Alex Padilla, the California Secretary of State, noted.
"It is unfortunate [when these tactics are used], but it's not illegal," Mike Sanchez with the Los Angeles County Registrar told LAist. "We have passed along all complaints we've received and any additional information, however, to the county counsel so they can continue looking into this voter shaming."
"Overall I think it's enormously dispiriting to try to shame people into voting," Jessica Levinson, president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which regulates various campaign issues, said, according to KTLA. "Clearly voter turnout is a huge problem in our city ... but it's terribly depressing that we think the only way to get people to weigh in on their representatives and proposed laws is to publicly embarrass them."
“So what does that mean?" Terri Maynez, an LAUSD employee and resident of Sylmar, said of the letter, reports the Times. "I won’t be on the bad list if I vote? That’s an invasion of people’s privacy…. Who wants to be harassed about whether or not they voted by your neighbors?”