Inquiry Launched Into Group That Sought to Disclose Voting Records

A nonprofit citizens group is under investigation for planning to send a mass mailing to 350,000 Virginia residents that would show not only their own voting record, but that of their neighbors, as well -- privileged information that, when released to the general public, is a felony punishable by a prison term. 

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

The Know Campaign,  a section 501(c)(4) organization that "seeks to educate voters so they may elect an effective and accountable" government, also planned to include a partial list of the recipient's neighbors -- and their recent voting history -- in the mailing.

"As you can see, several of your neighbors vote during every election, while others are not voting as regularly as they could be," the letter said, before reminding: "There is another election in Virginia on November 3."

Nancy Rodriguez, secretary of the Virginia State Board of Elections, said the agency is trying to find out how the Know Campaign acquired the voting records.

"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 how [the group] got the data."

In Virginia, records of individuals who vote in elections can be released only 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 of up to 10 years and a fine of $2,500, state officials said.

The proposed mailing, Rodriguez said flatly, tells "who voted in what elections."

Debra Girvin, the Know Campaign'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 her organization.

In a press release issued earlier this week, 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."

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.