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Michigan voter information is available to the public

LANSING — Voter information is not confidential in Michigan. According to the National Conference of State Legislators, states have varied requirements on who is eligible to request a list of voters, what information the list contains, what information is kept confidential, and how information contained in voter lists may be used. Many states also have specific programs to keep all voter information confidential for certain classes of voters.

According the Secretary of State’ Office, under Michigan law, all voter registration records are public documents and are available for public inspection during normal business hours.

There are, however, items exempt from public disclosure:

• Driver’s license or state personal identification number

• Month and day of the voter’s birth

• Phone number

• Email address

• The identity or type of office that initially received the registration

• Information regarding an individual’s refusal to register to vote

A Sept. 16, 2020, comparitech.com article by Paul Bischoff stated that while privacy laws do vary by state, some only distribute names and addresses to political parties on a strict non-commercial basis. Others publish voter lists online so anyone (even those outside the U.S.) can access the data.

The article states that “Our team of researchers has been through each state’s voter registration legislation, voter list request processes, and cyber security standards to find out which states have the best privacy protections for their voters,” and what the study found is that Michigan ranks fifth, for states lacking voter privacy data.

“Michigan allows full access to the voter database,” the report states, “has no specifications on what the file can be used for (and thus, no penalties), and provides no added protection for certain groups’ voter data. However, it has all of the cyber security measures in place, does have some cost (approx. $50) for accessing the list, and requires some information from requestors (they can also specify the precinct/district they require).”

Further, the report states:

“Recent examples include Michigan voter information being for sale on the Dark Web (authorities insisted this data wasn’t hacked, though, as the data is freely available to anyone through a Freedom of Information request), and the infamous Russian hack on election databases in 2016.”

On Sept. 1, 2020, The Detroit News reported that Michigan Secretary of State (SOS) Jocelyn Benson’s office “is denying reports out of Russia that the state’s voter information system has been hacked after details on voters were apparently posted online.”

The News reported that database of more than 7.6 million Michigan voters was posted on a “Russian hacker site,” according to a translation of an article reported Tuesday by the Kommersant, a daily newspaper in Russia. This is refuted by several agencies, however.

Tracy Wimmer, Benson’s spokeswoman, denied the hack occurred, saying the public voter information is accessible to anyone through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request, stated the News.

A Sept. 1, 2020 article in the Hill stated that the SOS issued the statement in response to a tweet from GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe, which included a link to the Russian newspaper.

“Russian journalists have discovered data from Michigan voter data rolls–including the personal info of 7.6 million Michigan voters–on a Russian hackers’ platform. It also includes voter info from other swing states, including Florida and NC,” the Hill reported Ioffe as tweeting.

In a follow-up tweet, she noted that while the information was publicly available, “it’s just unclear what these hackers are using it for, other than scamming the State Department.”

On Sept. 1, a joint statement from Cyber security and Infrastructure Security Agency post on Twitter stated:

“CISA and the FBI have not seen cyber attacks this year on voter registration databases or any systems involving voting. We closely coordinate with our federal, state, and local election partners to monitor the risks related to all methods of voting during our elections. And we regularly proved this information to the state and local election officials who are responsible for our voting systems.”

The statement went on to say that early, unverified claims should be viewed with a “healthy dose of skepticism.” The statement added that the two agencies encourage voters to look to trusted sources of information.

“In this case, state election officials who have correctly pointed out that a lot of voter registration data is publicly available or easily purchased.”

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