Records of registered voters are kept on a county level, usually in a Voter Registrar’s Office, sometimes called an Elections Office.
In California, copies of the voter registration records also are kept at the California Secretary of State’s Office.
The information on a voter includes the person’s home address, political party affiliation, date of birth and sometimes a phone number.
To see what information is required from a voter, check the U.S. Election Assistance Commission’s National Mail voter Registration Form
In California, to see what information a person is asked to provide when registering to vote, check the Voter Registration Form at the California Secretary of State’s website.
However, much of the personal information, such as a home address and phone number, is not open to the general public because of privacy concerns. In California, a reporter can get access to the restricted information if you can demonstrate you need it for “journalistic purposes.”
A county voter registrar’s office has an alphabetical index of the names of registered voters in that county.
The information listed for each person includes their home address, date of birth, political party affiliation, and sometimes a phone number (when a person registers to vote, they have the option of listing their phone number).
There will be one index of people currently registered to vote, and other indexes of people registered to vote in previous years.
A county voter registrar’s office has an address index that lists who is registered to vote at each address.
There is a street index for current voters, and sometimes other indexes available for previous years.
Restrictions on Accessing Voter Records
Because of privacy concerns, personal information on a voter at a voter registrar’s office, such as a home address or phone number, is often not available to the general public. Only a voter’s date of birth, mailing address and political party affiliation might be available.
In California, while personal information is not available for general public access, it is available for “journalistic purposes.”
Thus to access the address and other more detailed information for a voter at the voter registrar’s office, you will need to provide a press credential or some other form of identification showing you are a journalist or working for a journalism organization.
Here are the main sections of California law on the restrictions on public accessibility to some voter registration information and how this information is available to someone if it is to be used for “journalistic purposes.”
California Government Code Section 6254.4
(a) The home address, telephone number, e-mail address, precinct number, or other number specified by the Secretary of State for voter registration purposes, and prior registration information shown on the voter registration card for all registered voters, are confidential and shall not be disclosed to any person, except pursuant to Section 2194 of the Elections Code.
California Elections Code Section 2194
(a) The voter registration card information identified in subdivision (a) of Section 6254.4 of the Government Code:
(1) Shall be confidential and shall not appear on any computer terminal, list, affidavit, duplicate affidavit, or other medium routinely available to the public at the county elections official’s office.
(3) Shall be provided with respect to any voter, subject to the provisions of Sections 2166.5, 2166.7, and 2188, to any candidate for federal, state, or local office, to any committee for or against any initiative or referendum measure for which legal publication is made, and to any person for election, scholarly, journalistic, or political purposes, or for governmental purposes, as determined by the Secretary of State.
What’s Available Online
Very few voter registrar offices put their records online.
For a list of states or counties where some voter records are available, see:
Voter Registration Records Used in Stories
Already in jail, ex-candidate faces fraud charges – 40 counts of creating fake identities that were on voter rolls – San Francisco Chronicle, 11/1/2005. A story about a former Hayward city council and school board candidate who allegedly registered to vote 40 times using false identities.
About this Tutorial
This tutorial was originally written by Paul Grabowicz for students in his Computer Assisted Reporting class, and later modified for public use.
Copyright UC Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism . Any code samples in these tutorials are provided under the MIT License
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