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It has been reported that Russia penetrated US voter registration rolls.

From what I understand, the databases only contain information on who is registered to vote, and it seems that Russia only read data, but did not remove or add voters.

It seems that Russia wouldn't gain much by getting this data. Do registration rolls contain more sensitive data which could be used to influence elections or voters? Or are there other ramifications from accessing this data?

  • All data mattters. That's why companies do market research, they do not alter your behaviour to make you buy their products, but it helps them whether or not, you are part of their target audience. If not, they won't waste their money to market their products to you, which you are unlikely to buy. The same holds for politics, if you know the registered voters, you do not have to market to non-registered voters, who would be eligible to vote, but for some reason do not. Especially in the US's non-popular voting systems, such information can be valuable, e.g. in swing states/districts. – Dohn Joe Feb 12 '18 at 3:51
  • Pew Research [pewresearch.org/2018/02/15/… just released an analysis of voter file databases that is instructive as background. – BobE Feb 16 '18 at 13:48
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The only registration rolls that I can speak to contain name, addresses, voting precinct, date of birth, sometimes drivers license numbers, original registration and re-registration date, party affiliation, complete voting history for the past 5 years,including what party primary the voter voted in.

That said, My impression is that the concern is not necessarily the data (in some states this data is publicly available), but rather that an outside agency maybe able to alter the data. If voters are removed from the electronic rolls by "outsiders" it would cause voters to have to cast provisional ballots. If a voters precinct is changed by an "outsider", both the voter may have to go to a different polling place.

So, the concern is not necessarily what the "outsiders" can learn from the data or use the data, the concern is the ability to corrupt the voter registration data.

  • I definitely get the concern (It's never good when someone penetrates your systems), but I'm unsure about the motivation to access the data (I guess it could just be a "can we do it?" or "what else is here?" situation though). Do all states track party affiliation? And is it mandatory for registration in those states (I know that some states may track it, but from a non-US perspective, it seems very odd if this were required to vote)? And is all the data publicly available? Including party affiliation? – tim Feb 9 '18 at 22:11
  • discussing the motivation of unauthorized access to voters registration databases enters the area of "speculation" - which I have been admonished has no place on stack exchange. So rather than "speculate", I'll pose this question: Would a foreign agency, looking for ways to undermine another country (and more specifically public confidence), look for ways to screw up that other country's voting systems? – BobE Feb 9 '18 at 22:47
  • You might want to note that voting history does not include the actual votes cast; you can't tell whom people have voted for by looking at these records. – phoog Feb 10 '18 at 1:59
  • @phoog - correct, all the registration rolls I've seen list only that the person voted in the primary , special or general for each of the 5 years. The in the case of a primary, where the voter gets a party ballot, is there specificity as to which ballot was cast (but not for which candidate) – BobE Feb 10 '18 at 4:45
  • I would argue, that the data alone is quite useful for social engineering attacks. If a malicious actor/party knows all registered voters, it can target the registered voters in a swing state, or swing district. Without this information, the whole population eligible for voting would be the target pool. So voter registration data helps to narrow down the potential targets. – Dohn Joe Feb 12 '18 at 3:47
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This answer largely depends on your state. However I imagine much of the information is similar.

In my state, the rolls contain information such as name, date registered, party affiliation, date of birth, current address, first date of election eligibility, previous addresses I was registered to vote, and voting history (ie. which past elections you have voted in, the ward and district you voted in, and the method of voting, such as I person or vote by mail or provisional ballot).

There is additionally some non-public information held; I believe it is license ID numbers or social security numbers (both used by the state to verify the person is who they claim to be). These numbers are not generally accessible to anyone.

If you are interested in finding out more, you can probably submit a public records request for your records in your state.

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To the extent that Russia has a mass media with global reach, any foreign demographic data can be useful for marketing products internationally. When the products are American politicians that favor Russian interests, such voter roll data could be very useful, especially if correlated with other forms of big data.

For example, Russian web brigades can use such data to more accurately target propaganda, making a given campaign more likely to go viral.

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