“THANK YOU FOR PLANNING TO VOTE BY MAIL,” announced the slick flyer, in capital letters, that arrived in my mailbox.
On the flip side, the words “ILLINOIS VOTER ALERT” were printed in even large letters, with the word “ALERT” in red ink.
Right next to that warning was the following information:
“Our records indicate you’ve requested a vote by mail ballot. When your mail-in ballot arrives, be sure to return it quickly. And don’t forget to vote YES on the Fair Tax.”
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What the heck? How did anyone know I had just applied for a mail-in ballot? And why were they lobbying me to vote for a constitutional referendum that would change the way our state income taxes are computed?
In very small type at the bottom of the mailer were these words: “Paid For by Vote Yes for Fairness.” And on the flip side in somewhat larger type there was this information:
“Reminder, Vote Yes for the Fair Tax to make millionaires and billionaires pay their fair share.”
I want to make this clear: I have supported the concept of amending the constitution so this state can go to a graduated income tax for decades. I have written a dozen or more columns on the topic and why it would be better for the people of Illinois.
That said, I was annoyed by the mailer.
It felt like it was an invasion of my privacy as a voter. Intimidation by implication. We know you have an application to vote by mail and we’re keeping an eye on you, buddy.
I realize this may sound as if I have been influenced by the propaganda put out by President Donald Trump, but I think I can safely say that is not true. However, I can see how people who received a flyer like this one might wonder if there’s something to the allegations being made about chicanery surrounding the 2020 election.
I contacted Quentin Fulks, executive director and chairman of the Vote Yes for Fairness campaign, and he admitted that his organization was behind the mailer. He explained that the names and addresses of anyone who had applied for a mail-in ballot were public information and that political committees always have access to such data.
It’s just like the information about who is registered to vote, their home addresses and whether they have voted in Democratic or Republican primaries. All of that stuff is public information and routinely used by political campaigns to contact likely voters at election time. That’s how your mailbox gets filled with flyers from political candidates at this time of year.
There is nothing illegal or sleazy about it. Yet….
This seemed different. Maybe it’s the tone of this national election campaign, or the way this particular flyer was worded. Someone, a political action group, knew I was planning to vote by mail and had actually applied for a ballot. What else did they know?
Matt Dietrich, spokesman for the Illinois State Board of Elections, told me the information about mail-in ballot applications is available through his agency to all registered political parties, campaigns and committees. The information about who has applied for mail-in ballots is downloaded nightly to the state’s computers from counties throughout the state each night.
There have been more than 2 million requests for mail-in ballots statewide and 38,000 ballots have been returned,
And there is an actual menu of how much it costs to obtain the individual voter files of everyone on the Illinois Election Board web site.
The cost for the entire state is $500; for voter data by Supreme Court/Appellate District, $100; for Cook County, $100; Chicago, $100; state senate district, $30; and state representative district, $25.
“Files of computerized voter registration data are available on DVD or CD-ROM.” Date of birth for voters is no longer provided.
Fulks told me his organization actually got its list of mail-in ballot applicants from the Illinois Democratic Party.
It’s probable that organizations opposed to the graduated income tax amendment are sending out mailers to mail-in ballot applicants as well.
I don’t like it. It feels wrong. But then, a lot about our election process has bothered me and no one has ever seemed to care much, particularly the people working for political campaigns.
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