Inquiry Launched Into Group That Sought to Disclose Voting Records

An inquiry has been launched into a planned mass mailing by a nonprofit group that sought to disclose the voting history of roughly 350,000 Virginians.

Nancy Rodriguez, secretary of the state's board of elections, said the agency is attempting to find out how the Know Campaign acquired the information containing a resident's participation in recent elections, as well as their neighbors. 

The planned mailing, obtained by Foxnews.com, indicated that the public information was obtained by the Virginia State Board of Elections, but Rodriguez disputed that assertion.

"I can assure you, after checking all the files, the state Board of Elections did not provide that data directly to the Know Campaign," Rodriguez said. "We want to know [the group] got the data."

Records of individuals who voted in elections can only be released to candidates, elected officials and political party chairmen. Rodriguez said individuals with access to such lists must sign a statement agreeing not to disseminate the data. A violation of the law is a felony punishable by a prison term up to 10 years and a fine of $2,500, state officials said.

The Know Campaign, according to its Web site, is a nonprofit section 501(c)(4) organization that "seeks to educate voters so they may elect an effective and accountable" government.

Debra Girvin, the group's executive director, did not return repeated requests for comment. She told the Virginian-Pilot that she halted the planned campaign until questions of legality could be clarified. Girvin declined to tell the newspaper the source of a $150,000 foundation grant that funded the organization.

In a press release issued Monday, Girvin said the mailing effort is not new, citing a group in Michigan that conducted a similar campaign during a 2006 primary race that resulted in a voter turnout increase of more than 8 percent.

"Our efforts are totally nonpartisan," Girvin said in the release. "We believe that many people don't vote because they don't feel informed. Thus, we are encouraging them to become more engaged, more informed, and vote. We believe that democracy only works well when our citizenry votes."

The mailing was intended for 350,000 random households in Virginia.

"Below is a partial list of your recent voting history -- public information obtained from the Virginia State Board of Elections, the letter reads. "We have sent you this information as a public service because we believe that democracy only works when you vote."

Rodriguez said flatly, "It's who voted in what elections."

The planned was also to include a partial list of the recipient's neighbors and "their recent voting history.

"As you can see, several of your neighbors vote during every election, while other are not voting as regularly as they could be," the mailing continued. "There is another election in Virginia on November 3."

According to the organization's Web site, knowcampaign.org, the group believes the voting public, "not just grassroots activists and legislators" should be informed with the facts on issues that impact their everyday lives.