Ohio SOS Welcome-Packet Plan May be Unwelcome at Statehouse Fund's Panel

STORY UPDATE

ONB COLUMBUS: Come Monday when Ohio Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner appears before a legislative panel to ask for their approval to receive funding from the Pew Charitable Trusts for an innovative effort to help residents who move keep their voter registration up to date, she should expect an unwelcome reception from one Republican member of the panel who has already expressed his concern with the limited scope of the initiative and with one of the project’s vendors.

In a published report Friday from the Associated Press (AP), State Senator John Carey, who sits on the Controlling Board (CB) because he chairs the Finance and Financial Institutions Committee, said he’ll oppose the model-program because it only covers 45 of Ohio’s 88 counties, and because a key vendor, Imagitas of Massachusetts, is the target of a federal lawsuit by motorists in five states, including Ohio, that it violated privacy laws preventing the disclosure of drivers’ personal information.

The good news for Brunner is that even though the tall senator from a small, rural town in southeast Ohio may be against it, the fact that the project doesn’t use any taxpayer dollars and could become a national model if proved successful, may be enough justification to convince the majority of the CB members to approve it as another useful tool to increase voter participation by allowing Ohio residents to move their voter registration as easily as they move their household goods.

IMAGITAS OFFICIAL CLEARS THE AIR ON WELCOME-PACKET PLAN

The AP article, which has now been picked by other news sources, may be misleading because it paints Imagitas as a problem vendor when it isn't and leads readers to the erroneous conclusion that the company will receive personal voter information on Ohioans who receive a voter-registration form in the welcome packet that is automatically sent to people moving by The United States Postal Service (USPS.

Not mentioned by the AP story but absolutely key to the workings of the program is that the mailing is not sent out by the Ohio Secretary of State. Instead, the Ohio voter-registration information and form is just another insert into a an existing welcome packet already being sent that is already full of information and advertisements from other companies, like Home Depot, that people relocating to another address might find useful.

Furthermore, the AP article also neglected to say that Indiana and Kentucky will also be partners in the PCT funding. Carey may not understand that if he shoots down Ohio, he also shoots down the unique opportunity for Indiana and Kentucky to also be players in a project the PCT thinks if worthwhile enough to have have included two other states other than Ohio in it.

In an email to this reporter from Imagitas Vice President Alfie Charles providing program clarification as a counterbalance to the gaps in the AP article, he emphasized that Imagitas will "simply distribute the blank forms (from the Ohio SOS)in a pre-existing mailing from the US Postal Service. He underscored that Imagitas "will not receive any voter information at all" and that when movers do complete the forms, "all registration forms would be sent directly to election officials."

With the addition of the voter-form insert from the Ohio SOS, movers will not only know who many of their new local companies are, they'll also be able to move their voter registration to a new board of elections, and by doing so also inform their old board of elections of their move. This is a double dose of administrative help in one form because it provides valuable information to two boards of elections in one form.

Charles, a former assistant secretary of state for California, said one goal of the partnership between his company and USPS and PCT is to "see what policy benefits there would be if the State (Ohio)includes a voter registration form in the Welcome Kit that is already distributed to new movers as part of the USPS change of address program.

"By registering people when they move, officials are not only adding names to the voter file they are also given an opportunity to remove old names from the file to eliminate ineligible voters from remaining on the rolls at their prior address. This program should improve the integrity of elections by promoting participation while simultaneously decreasing the potential for fraud that exists when "deadwood" remains on the voter file. [Alfie Charlies, Imagitas]

The main objective of the two-year project made possible through funding from the PCT’s “Make Voting Work” program is to take the lead on what could become the most efficient and cost-effective voter registration program in the nation.

CHARLES QUELLS CONCERNS OF PRIVACY ISSUES

While some critics may be quick to construct a spurious connection between the federal lawsuit in Florida by motorists alleging Imagitas of violations of privacy laws, Charles quells concerns by pointing out that Imagitas utilizes privacy protected advertising as a tool to help government fund essential services.

"We have never been accused of any security breaches or any redistribution or re-selling of anyone's personal data," said Charles, adding, "We simply do what we are required to do by contract with each of our state partners. "

He said the pending lawsuits are more about the concept of using advertising revenue to fund government services than about any inappropriate conduct by Imagitas.

I recognize there can be a reasonable policy debate about when and how advertising can and should be done, but our company is absolutely zealous about protecting personal privacy and ensuring that we never provide personal information to any of the advertisers that participate in the programs we provide for government.

Providing further support for his claim that Imagitas is not in the business of violating privacy laws, Charles said The Center for Democracy and Technology recently published a paper in their ohionews@www.epluribusmedia.org

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