Robocalls, text message polls and negative ads have new company in a list of annoying campaign methods: social shaming by releasing public records on whether you — or your neighbor — votes.
With the election only days away, someone is targeting voters by mailing residents lists of names and addresses — and information on whether those people voted or not in three elections between March 2016 and March of last year.
“We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, and your neighbors to let you know who does and does not vote,” one of the letters reads, with a logo on top that resembles a City of Chicago seal. “After the February 26 election, we will send an updated chart to you, your friends, and your neighbors so we an see how we did together.”
The letter, according to one copy posted to social media, lists a return address of a co-working space downtown, but does not give further details of where it came from.
Board of Election Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said there’s “no doubt” the mailings are coming from a political campaign, and it isn’t the first time Chicago voters have been targeted in a similar fashion. And while it’s a nuisance for the board and for voters, it’s not illegal.
“It’s a social shaming technique and it’s very unfortunately using public information to get under people’s skin to try to get them to vote,” Allen said.
Though the board has been unable to determine who is behind the mailers, complaints have come from multiple wards — including the 1st, 47th and 43rd — which indicates the campaign behind them is likely for a citywide office. That would be mayoral, clerk or treasurer.
The board has fielded complaints from voters angry about the mailers, but voting records are public and any campaign can track them down.
“We’re getting emails and phone calls, some are like, ‘How dare you give out this information?’, but they all have this information,” Allen said. “It’s always a public record whether or not you voted in any election.” Who you vote for, however, is not public.
What should voters do if they get a letter? “Just toss it,” Allen said.
18,000 mail-in ballots received
As an unpredictable Election Day nears, voters are finalizing their decisions — Allen said 30 percent mail-in ballots has been returned as of Thursday.
“Up until a week or two ago, we only had 300 back or 700 back, then suddenly 10,000, then 18,000,” Allen said. “People are making up their minds.”