For those weary of spam in their in-box, the idea could sound appealing: Don't let state government provide voters' email addresses to anyone. But this simple idea has far-reaching consequences that would dramatically undermine Floridians' ability to hold their government to account. Such secrecy has no place in a democracy.
The problems with HB 249 and SB 1260 are both logistical and philosophical. The plans would require any agency that holds a voter's email address to cloak the email address from public view. The exemption would create a bureaucratic nightmare in fulfilling public records requests. Just how are non-elections agencies supposed to know that JohnDoe@Mailbox.com belongs to a registered voter? And the potential is also ripe for cloaking who is communicating with government officials. That is unacceptable.
Under Florida's Constitution, lawmakers must provide compelling public reasons why such information should be cloaked. The bill sponsors fail on those points, too. Their tortuous argument claims that since voters can use email to request an absentee ballot, public access to the addresses could encourage voter impersonation. Never mind, apparently, that actual cases of voter interference now being prosecuted came about because political operatives have access to the cloaked names of all voters requesting absentee ballots. Yet there has been no move to change that law.
The other flawed argument is that eventually county supervisors of elections hope to save money by sending sample ballots via email and that if email addresses are public, voters won't be willing to provide email addresses for fear they will be mined via public records requests for commercial purposes. But there are laws to prohibit that. And potential voter resistance to a government cost-cutting scheme is no reason to abandon the state's commitment to open government.
Lawmakers have crafted a solution in search of a problem. But Florida's tradition to open government is not the problem.