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From the staff of the Tampa Bay Times

Secret-voter data bill, on shaky ground, is tabled a second time



Facing likely defeat, a Republican senator tabled his own bill Tuesday to make most public information on Florida voters secret. It was the second time that Sen. Thad Altman's bill was pulled from consideration before a vote in the Senate Ethics & Elections Committee.

Altman's bill (SB 702), a priority of county election supervisors, would make all 12 million Florida voters' home addresses, dates of birth, phone numbers and email addresses secret. The information has been public for decades, but supervisors say that because of the Internet, voters are shocked to find that the data is all over the web, making them potential targets of identity theft. The voter data is also used by Tom Alciere, a former New Hampshire legislator, who has for-profit websites that display states' voter databases.

"Whatever party you choose to join, whether you choose to vote or not vote, or when you were born is your personal information," Altman told senators. "The public doesn't need to know your voter history."

Individual voter histories that show in which elections they voted or didn't, or when a voter changed parties, is public information but it is not on the Internet. It must be provided in response to a public records request.

Sen. Jeff Clemens, D-Lake Worth, said the news media has a legitimate use for the information, and Altman's bill was headed for serious trouble when Republican Sen. John Legg of New Port Richey joined the opposition.

The Senate panel has six Republicans and four Democrats, all four of whom were expected to vote against the bill. But one Republican was absent, which made Legg's vote pivotal.

Legg said he was troubled by what he said was "too broad a swath" of exemptions in Altman's bill. For example, under the bill, candidates could still access the voter data, so Legg suggested someone could be a write-in candidate for public office, get the data and then withdraw from being a candidate. Legg's hometown election supervisor, Pasco's Brian Corley, is a strong supporter of the bill. The ACLU and Common Cause registered their opposition.

[Last modified: Tuesday, January 26, 2016 3:36pm]


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