(The Center Square) – Virginia has the best voter privacy protection in the country when compared with every other state and the District of Columbia, according to a study published Wednesday by Comparitech.
The study graded each state on 12 criteria for voter privacy protection, including how easy it is to access the the voter registration list, whether voters can request their information be confidential and whether the state enforces adequate penalties against people who violate the law.
Virginia scored 37.5 out of a possible 47, which was the highest in the country and more than 10 points higher than the median: 27.
“Virginia restricts access to its voter registration list to those who use it to promote voter participation and registration, with fines and possible prison time for anyone who breaks those rules,” Paul Bischoff, the editor of Comparitech, told The Center Square.
“The full list costs about $5,500, which dissuades many would-be malicious parties,” Bischoff said. “Voters are informed that their details might be shared with third parties when they register. At-risk voters can request their information be kept confidential, including those in witness protection, police, judges, attorneys, and foster parents. Virginia's voter registration system meets most of our cybersecurity standards.”
Although Virginia ranked first in the country, Bischoff said there are some areas in which the state could improve. Virginia is lenient on who can access the voter list, scoring a one out of a possible five. The commonwealth also could allow anyone to keep information confidential, end automatic voter registration and remove voters’ genders from the public record, he said.
Bischoff said some measures that increase voter privacy also could have negative externalities, such as lower voter participation and less transparency.
According to the study, most states do not protect voter data well. In 31 states, the general public can access voter data, 22 states do not require any information before accessing the voter list and 21 states have or soon will have automatic voter registration.
After Virginia, the states that protect voter privacy the best are Indiana, California, Utah, Minnesota and South Dakota. The states that provide the least protection are North Carolina, Ohio, Arkansas, Massachusetts and Oklahoma.
“Improving voter privacy decreases the risk of their personal information being abused,” Bischoff said. “For example, foreign influence and misinformation campaigns are less effective when threat actors don't know who to target. Strong cybersecurity ensures voting systems are not compromised by hackers, helping to ensure the integrity of the vote. Voters whose privacy is protected are less likely to have spam and scams sent to their mailboxes. Those who might be endangered by exposing their address or other personal information should be able to vote without fear.”
Neither the governor’s office nor the Virginia Department of Elections responded to a request for comment from The Center Square.
Comparitech is a website that provides information, tools and comparisons to help consumers research and compare tech services.