Vote Fraud
November 2, 2008 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Is my voting or not voting a matter of public record? I lied to everybody I know about voting, and I'm worried because I am uncertain about my true likelihood of being found out.

But here's the problem: not voting in my friend group is a major taboo. It would result in many lectures and even shunning if this is acknowledged or found out. In fact voting is a requirement in the house I live at, and could even result in me getting voted off the island.

I don't see why it is anyone's business but mine. So I lie to make my life much easier.

But getting caught in a lie about voting would be even worse than admitting not voting.

I told everyone that I voted the other day (I live in Wisconsin). Are there any holes I'm missing? Is there any way for anyone I know to find out? Who knows if I've voted or not? Is the Obama campaign going to send someone to my house or call and leave an incriminating message on my machine informing my housemates that I haven't voted yet?

I'm in the dark about the various ways my lie could be found out, and it's making me nervous.

Please make answers helpful. No ethical lectures about lying or voting, and no political lectures about how one candidate is clearly superior.
posted by anonymous to Law & Government (42 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
This site may be of interest.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:05 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Generally, yes, it can be found out. But someone would have to actively go and hunt the information down, and if none of your friends suspect you, they have no reason to go through the effort.

I mean, you may get a call from the Obama campaign along the lines of "remember to vote!" but that's not going to be dependent on whether you've voted - the campaign isn't omnipotent.

Don't worry.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:05 PM on November 2, 2008


It's pretty easy to find out who voted. And even if they're not looking specifically for your voter info, if they feel like searching for you on Pipl, sometimes voter records are the very first thing that will pop up for someone.
posted by grouse at 6:14 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


More specifically, this chart shows how to get voter information in the different states, and who that information is available to.
posted by mynameisluka at 6:16 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


The more likely cause of you getting caught is if you lie about some detail and someone contradicts you. Unless you actually went down to the polling place, that's pretty unavoidable.
posted by smackfu at 6:16 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


If you don't want to vote, but you do want to show up on the lists of who voted, go to your polling place and sign in, then submit an empty ballot. Or write in cartoon characters for every position. Or, you know, as long as you're there, you could vote.
posted by hades at 6:21 PM on November 2, 2008 [2 favorites]


Is my voting or not voting a matter of public record? I lied to everybody I know about voting, and I'm worried because I am uncertain about my true likelihood of being found out.

They have no way of finding out. Except if you tell them. Which you will want to do because lying is difficult, especially over time.
posted by Ironmouth at 6:26 PM on November 2, 2008


Are there any holes I'm missing?

Do you know how and where to vote in Wisconsin? Do you know your polling place? Early voting hours? Do you even have early voting? Does your state have voter's cards and if so, do you have one? Nothing quite like a pal wanting to compare voter cards 'cause something appears weird on theirs. Or you could say voting was a breeze, when tv stations show long lines at your voting place. If you say you voted absentee, you should know what the ballot looks like. If voted the other day, you do know what was on the ballot, from local races to any ballot initiatives, right?

It sounds like it would just be easier to vote or admit you don't vote.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:32 PM on November 2, 2008 [7 favorites]


In Kansas you can look at voteks.org and with the first and last names, plus birthdate, find out where a person is registered, what elections they've voted in, and how that vote was cast (polling place, absintee, etc). It of course does not say how one voted. I'm sure many states have systems like this, online or not.
posted by Science! at 6:33 PM on November 2, 2008


Good grief people, don't give patently incorrect answers. If you don't actually know that Wisconsin doesn't track who votes and who doesn't vote, don't say definitively that it's impossible for anon's friends to find out. In Oregon, for instance, you can easily call the county elections clerk and find out every time a voter has changed their registration, changed their political party, and find out every single primary, general and special election that the person has voted in. Obviously, which candidate they voted for isn't tracked, but whether they actually voted is.

If no one here is able to tell you definitively what the law is in Wisconsin, anon, you should call up the secretary of state or county clerk or whoever and ask them what information is publicly accessible. Though honestly, doesn't it seem to be more work this way? Just go down to the elections office and fill out a blank slate, if you're worried.
posted by Happydaz at 6:38 PM on November 2, 2008


With no moral subtext at all, I'm really curious about your motivation here. What is it about spending a few minutes casting a vote that makes avoiding doing so worth all this angst?

If you reckon all the candidates are such bastards that you have principled objections to supporting any of them, but you also want this fact not to show up on any paper trail, all you need to do is show up at the polling place, get your name crossed off, and leave.
posted by flabdablet at 6:42 PM on November 2, 2008 [4 favorites]


Whether you applied for a ballot at the polls is a matter of public record. What you did with that ballot is not. If voting is a 'requirement' for where you live, you probably will be caught, because that means they probably will check. You can submit a blank ballot if you want.

No campaign will have knowledge of who voted or not, unless they go to the trouble of collating and compiling the information, and that's certainly not going to happen the day of the election.
posted by jlkr at 6:45 PM on November 2, 2008


I guess it varies by state, but in MA, I was always told that voter records are public information, as is whether a person voted in any given election. I thumbed through a book that listed people and their affiliations, but it didn't have records of who voted in what elections, though I have no reason to doubt that it's out there. It's generally the type of thing buried in a book somewhere in the registrar's office, not something online.

Excuse my ignorance about Wisconsin, but can't you just go out Tuesday for lunch or something and pop by the polls? And if for some strange reason you don't want to actually vote, you could always get your ballot and then submit it blank.

Of course, the odds of someone researching whether you actually voted are probably much less than the odds of someone seeing you at the polls, so tread carefully. (Then again, if someone says, "I thought you already voted," giving them the sort of "hush!" gesture you might give a kid in the movies might lead them to think that you're so into voting that you're doing it repeatedly.)

Oh, FWIW, I did get-out-the-vote stuff on election day for Obama in the NH primaries. I had a list of people, but it was a list of people who were registered Democrats (from the state's records) that had previously indicated (in our phone polling) they were leaning towards Obama. Even if the people out on election day were able to get a list of everyone who had already voted (I really doubt they'd waste their time doing that on election day, as someone upthread pointed out), the person coming to your door would totally believe you if you said, "No, I voted last week. Maybe they didn't update the list yet?"

And if someone takes the time to research whether you voted or not, they're the ones with a problem, not you.
posted by fogster at 7:35 PM on November 2, 2008


Anyone who knows your name and birthdate can check whether you're registered to vote on Wisconsin's online system. As I don't know anyone in Wisconsin, I can't see whether their page would also tell you whether you've voted before.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:40 PM on November 2, 2008


If you are registered to vote in the State of Wisconsin anyone who knows your name and birthdate can lookup your voter registration information (address, date of registration, etc.) and voting history (which indicates which elections you've voted in and by what method (i.e. at the polls, via absentee ballot, etc.). This information is available online via the State of Wisconsin Voter Public Access system.
posted by RichardP at 7:48 PM on November 2, 2008


I've volunteered to do Election Protection in a couple of different states, and while I've never done it in Wisconsin, the states where I have done it have made the names of people who have voted available to the party so that they can cross them off their list of people to contact in their Get Out The Vote efforts. In many cases lists are made available early to mid-afternoon the day of the election, so that people who haven't voted yet can get a phone call at home reminding them to vote.
posted by ambrosia at 7:57 PM on November 2, 2008


Do you seriously think your friends are going to check? If you really want to cover your tracks, you can register to vote and spoil you ballot. Wisconsin has same day registration. It's a matter of state pride.

I don't mean to be an asshole about this, because i don't think people should be forced to vote, nor do I think they should be asked personal questions, but why is this an issue? This angst might be worth exploring because, frankly, it seems like an irrational fear that's occupying a lot of mental energy.

I only say this to encourage you to explore something that is causing you stress unnecessarily.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 8:01 PM on November 2, 2008 [1 favorite]


Anyone who knows your name and birthdate can check whether you're registered to vote on Wisconsin's online system. As I don't know anyone in Wisconsin, I can't see whether their page would also tell you whether you've voted before.

It might. Using a common name, a little trial and error, and the default birthdate of 1/1/1900, I found a voter record. There was a link to view voting history, but it was empty for that record.
posted by thinman at 8:12 PM on November 2, 2008


I told everyone that I voted the other day (I live in Wisconsin). Are there any holes I'm missing? Is there any way for anyone I know to find out? Who knows if I've voted or not?

Anyone who knows your name and birthdate can find out trivially, using a convenient online system, whether you've voted and by what method.

Sorry.
posted by mr_roboto at 8:40 PM on November 2, 2008


It might. Using a common name, a little trial and error, and the default birthdate of 1/1/1900, I found a voter record. There was a link to view voting history, but it was empty for that record.

Aha. Yes, it is possible to tell.

I looked up my self here, clicked the "View your Voting History" link, and was treated to a list of the elections I've voted in. Here's a sample:

Date 	        Election 	         Method 	Party
4/3/2007 	2007 SPRING ELECTION 	At Polls 	Not Applicable
So, yes. With your name and birthdate, it would appear that someone could determine if you have voted. As suggested, simply showing up and casting a blank ballot would take care of that right quick.
posted by niles at 9:24 PM on November 2, 2008


And in further looking around, just knowing someone's name, I can get their month and year of birth in all of 5 minutes here. If you really could get kicked out of your house, you should probably just show up on Tuesday. That same VPA website can tell you your polling place.

Hope this all works out for you.
posted by niles at 9:37 PM on November 2, 2008


And yes - as ambrosia mentions - it is very possible for a volunteer to call or come by your house or both to say "our records show that anonymous hasn't voted yet - remember to vote!". Especially this year - turn out is *the* issue. I suspect folks will be relentless.
posted by Wolfie at 9:46 PM on November 2, 2008


The campaigns do know who has voted and do target voters who haven't yet done so for get out the vote contact.
posted by lemuria at 10:27 PM on November 2, 2008


If you're a felon or not a citizen or switched dog tags with your dead commanding officer, someone may find out regardless of your fake voting.
posted by glibhamdreck at 10:32 PM on November 2, 2008


If you do get caught, remember: Now is not the time to stop lying. A government database is missing one record of one vote? Perfectly believable.
posted by IvyMike at 10:34 PM on November 2, 2008


Get new friends. I'm totally serious.

Friends that will lecture/shun/make homeless someone because they didn't throw in their three billionths of a cent? God help you if you voted "wrong" either I'd guess.

Life's too short to put up with crap like that.
posted by codswallop at 11:12 PM on November 2, 2008 [3 favorites]


Also Anon here's a very helpful item from the Onion News Network: How To Pretend You Give A Shit About The Election.

"Be sure you come back, though, with a poll anecdote... it's a story or observation that you come back [with] after you're done fake voting."
posted by fucker at 12:39 AM on November 3, 2008 [3 favorites]


Are there any public records for who people voted for (besides political party -- not that that itself isn't pretty fucking private information.

No. In the US, all states hold elections by secret ballot, although "the Constitution for the State of West Virginia still allows voters to cast 'open ballots'."* In addition, no state requires a voter to disclose their party affiliation in order to register to vote (they all offer some equivalent of a decline-to-state option or the choice of a "non-partisan" party).

Does that Voter Public Access website exist for Chicago and Alaska?

In general voter participation is not a secret. According to the Alaska Division of Elections, you can can purchase for $178 a CD containing a statewide list of all registered voters that includes name, ascension number, residence address, mailing address, district, precinct, party affiliation, sex, and 10 years of voter history.

The state of Illinois sells a similar database of voters and their voting history data for $500 for the entire state (or $100 for just Chicago). However Illinois requires the purchaser to attest that they represent a registered political committee and that the data will only be used for bonafide political purposes.
posted by RichardP at 1:10 AM on November 3, 2008


In Texas, at least, you know who voted in the general elections and which primaries they voted in. When I knocked on doors for a state representative, I already knew the name of the person who lived there, and the elections they had voted in; it'd show up like RGRGRG or GGDG or G G or RGRGDG. It was useful information since I knew if I just needed to motivate a Democrat to vote, or if I needed to convince a Republican. You can look that information up.

It's illegal to show who a person voted for; we have a secret ballot for a reason.

...It's just that knowing the primaries can tend to give that information away. For example, if I see that someone voted in the Democratic primary and in the general election this year, I can deduce that it's very likely he voted for Obama. (It's possible they supported Hillary and voted McCain, but not as likely as they voted for Obama.) If someone voted in the Republican primary and the general election, it's a little harder: on the one hand, I know they're a serious enough Republican to vote in the primary, so it's likely they voted for McCain; on the other hand, they could have been a Republican that was excited about a different candidate and voted Obama in the end. Different election outcomes mean different readings of those three letters; a landslide in either direction means you can't know as much from seeing the losing party's letter since a decent amount of them voted for the other party. In most situations, though, it's a good indicator. You can fill in a surprising amount of likely policy positions using those letters in conjunction with the address, though, since neighborhoods have their own political identities.

You can also tell a lot about a person if they used to vote in one primary and started voting in another; Republican until Clinton is valuable information, as is Democrat until Bush, or Republican until Obama, etc. People often don't realize how much information about themselves is encoded into those Rs, Ds, and Gs in their voting record when a certain kind of person reads it.
posted by Nattie at 1:52 AM on November 3, 2008


Tomorrowful writes "I mean, you may get a call from the Obama campaign along the lines of 'remember to vote!' but that's not going to be dependent on whether you've voted - the campaign isn't omnipotent."

Campaigns regularly track who has voted, so as not to waste time calling or canvassing them. The Obama campaign I know does.

As others have pointed out, voting history is public information in Wisconsin.
posted by orthogonality at 4:00 AM on November 3, 2008


[a few comments removed - please do not turn this into a general purpose discussion about the election or voting in general, thanks.]
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 5:03 AM on November 3, 2008


You can go to your polling place, go into the booth, and then vote for nobody. The voting system should allow you to leave as many things blank as you want (i.e. all of them).

So you can go "vote" but not actually vote for anything, if your real issue with voting is the one of having to make a choice among candidates you don't particularly like. If your problem is something else, like waiting in line or such, I'm not sure what to say about that.
posted by that girl at 5:30 AM on November 3, 2008


Contrary to what most people have written above, some voting systems reject completely blank ballots. It's actually is a useful feature because every time it's happened while I've been working, it's been a ballot that did not fill in the bubble correctly. They meant to cast votes, but didn't follow the directions.
posted by advicepig at 8:15 AM on November 3, 2008


Several local campaigns (in my long family history of campaigning) have been derailed by the lack of voting history of one or the other candidates. So yes, I am quite sure you can be found out.

If you're called by the Obama campaign, however, don't lie and say you voted and they simply didn't record it. They'll try to pin down exactly what happened and waste their time.
posted by sondrialiac at 8:43 AM on November 3, 2008


On the Obama angle: I've been working on the Obama campaign pretty heavy here in WI. If in all the research we've been doing you told us that you are truly undecided, leaning Obama, or supporting Obama, you can be sure we've been doing everything possible to make sure you vote. We'll call you a few times on the 4th and might send someone to your house depending how close the district that you live in is. If you said that you support or lean McCain, we won't be by to 'out' you.
posted by andythebean at 8:44 AM on November 3, 2008


And if someone takes the time to research whether you voted or not, they're the ones with a problem, not you.

This is not true. Did you read the question?

voting is a requirement in the house I live at, and could even result in me getting voted off the island.


It is clear from the informed answers here (and I join Happydaz in deploring the idiots who are just talking out of their asses, and if I were running the site I would ban them from AskMe) that yes, your friends can find out if you have voted, and since it is so important to them, the probability that one or more of them will check is not negligible. It seems to me (and I say this not out of any personal enthusiasm for voting, as I am an anarchist) that your best bet is just to vote; otherwise, you're risking losing your housing and friends.
posted by languagehat at 9:36 AM on November 3, 2008


Yes, someone can check on you. The question is, who's going to WANT to? Is anyone going to suspect that you don't vote because the rest of the year you bitch about how voting is stupid? Do you give off any "I don't vote" red flags? Or do you just nod along with political conversations and fake it to the point where nobody's probably going to think, "Gee, anon seems really against voting. I bet he might have lied about it. I'm going to check on him?"

If you fake it the rest of the year, and just say you voted, I doubt anyone is seriously, seriously going to think to take the effort to check on you. Unless your housemates literally make you turn in an "I voted" sticker or something when you come home tomorrow.
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:38 AM on November 3, 2008


Ironmouth is completely wrong. I used to volunteer for an advocacy group in Wisconsin and can definitively say that voter databases can be gotten from the election commission. This is how we knew who our constituency was. The database told us the person's name, street address, in which elections they had voted, precinct, and whether they were registered democrat, republican, independent, or none of the above.
posted by desjardins at 11:42 AM on November 3, 2008


I spent this weekend canvassing for Obama in Wisconsin. I'm sorry to hear that you don't want to vote, but that's your right. I was sent to some very poor neighborhoods and the campaign was planning on sending volunteers to knock on doors Monday and Tuesday. They will go to the same houses three times on Tuesday. I specifically asked if they will keep track of who has voted (either by asking the resident or by poll watching) and was told no, they will just do a blanket sweep three times, no matter what. I'm sure this varies by neighborhood. These neighborhoods were extremely pro-Obama but had a high risk of no showing up.

There might be databases etc, mentioned above but as far as the volunteers coming by on Tuesday I don't think they're keeping track from what I've heard.
posted by Bunglegirl at 11:42 AM on November 3, 2008


I easily found out my mom (WI resident) hasn't voted yet so she's going to get a phone call from me.
posted by desjardins at 11:50 AM on November 3, 2008 [1 favorite]


Most states - I suspect all - allow you to opt out of the online view (which is usually a third party system and out of date and mistake riddled).

So, if they try to look you up online, you could say that you had opted out. Of course, if they actually walk downtown and want to look at paper, those are public records. And if they are volunteering, they may have access to good, recent records.

It's easier for a female to explain the opt out, what with stalkers and abusive exes and all.

Can I ask you one thing, pretty please - if your housemates seem to suspect, do not cook up a story about problems that prevented you from voting. There's enough going on. We don't need anyone crying wolf.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 5:53 PM on November 3, 2008


What did you end up doing?
posted by andythebean at 3:52 PM on November 8, 2008


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