Quick Hits – Voter data is public information you bleeps!

Quick Hits – Voter data is public information you bleeps!

I made the mistake of going on Facebook again (I never learn, do I?), and sure enough, the outrage du jour was over the Russian “hack” that got into a purported half-a-million Illinois State Board of Elections voter records.

So, my suddenly surly liberal brethren, who insist upon taking keening to heretofore unseen heights, tore Trump another new one for buddying up to a country that could possibly be this magnificently malicious. “Those scoundrels stole our data!,” they self-righteously shrieked.

Sigh! So much for the truth, right?

First, it wasn’t nearly the 500,000 records the federal indictment and talking heads trumpeted – the actual number was closer to 76,000. My sources at the ISBE told me the Mueller indictment tabulated the number of times those records were viewed, not the number of records viewed.

voter hack

In the words of that great philosopher Emily Litella, “Oh! That’s very different, never mind!”

And second – and this is the crucial concept my liberal compatriots – VOTER DATA IS ALREADY FLIPPIN’ PUBLIC INFORMATION. Sorry for shouting, but sometimes it’s difficult to get through to progressives who seem to be suffering from a malaise that slowly saps your IQ.

For a mere 500 bucks, anyone who’s created any kind of political committee can get the complete history of every single Illinois voter. And forming a political committee requires just two pages of paperwork. When I say complete history, I mean:

  • Your birthdate
  • Your mailing and voting address
  • Whether you voted in an election or not
  • How you voted (early, absentee, etc…)
  • What primary ballot you pulled (Republican or Democrat)
  • And much more

That information goes all the way back to the 90s, too. I currently have the voter data for virtually all of northern Illinois. Meanwhile, the Democrat’s Votebuilder database, based on that ISBE data, is so comprehensive, it stops just short of predicting the number of times voters have sex every week.

Does the ISBE need to be a little more careful? Yes! The Russians also accessed driver’s license and those final four social security numbers, but that’s not what they were after. They were trying to hack the software that tallies election night vote totals, but they completely failed in that regard.

Could those DL numbers have made it onto the Dark Web? Sure! But, as I can personally attest, after the Equifax breach, they’re already on the Dark Web anyway. Had the guy who sought credit in my name that fun Bronx spring weekend politely asked, I would’ve gladly handed him my identity.

That would’ve been a far greater consequence than any jail term.

When was the last time anybody did anything with your driver’s license number? Big freaking deal! “But Jeff! Once they got in the system, the Russians could’ve erased all Illinois voter information!

In the words of that great philosopher Dick Cheney, “So what?”

The Illinois State Board of Elections database is an aggregation of the data from all 108 Illinois election authorities, so in essence, that database is rebuilt every week.

Can you imagine the nightmare if those fine ISBE folks had to make every change, deletion and edit by hand? Put more simply, had the Russians wiped it clean, it would have been resurrected the very next day.

But none of this reality stopped the eminently arrogant Illinois Senator Dick During from issuing a stilted statement that included this paragraph:

“Today’s indictment stated that the individuals ‘hacked the website of a state board of elections… and stole information related to approximately 500,000 voters, including names, addresses, partial social security numbers, dates of birth, and driver’s license numbers.’  If this is in reference to the Illinois State Board of Elections, we must get to the bottom of it immediately.”

Trust me, like any other elected official, he knows that, for a few bucks, anyone can get the name, address, and date of birth of any Illinois voter.

So, my liberal friends! You can stand down from Defcon 4 and wait for the next shiny outrage object that comes into your field of vision because this ain’t a story. The Russians want to manipulate elections, not steal voter data, and those safeguards worked!

13 thoughts on “Quick Hits – Voter data is public information you bleeps!

  1. Jeff, this post is a long, elaborate exercise in missing the point.

    For one thing, accessing those voter records was probably the least nefarious thing the Russians are accused of. They hacked the DNC and released its emails en masse to Wikileaks, which combed over them and selectively leaked the most embarrassing (and out of context) messages in dribs and drabs over the course of the campaign.

    But the bigger picture is that Russia, perhaps our greatest geopolitical foe, actively interfered in the U.S. presidential election, and the president who got elected is just fine with that. After years of listening to righties shriek about how Obama was a Muslim socialist traitor, they blandly look on and shrug as Trump shares a podium at Helsinki with Putin and says in effect that hey, Putin says he didn’t interfere, and that’s good enough for me.

    “The Manchurian Candidate” was not supposed to be a documentary.

    1. Pan,

      Arrrggghhhh! You’re getting quite adept at entirely missing the point. And the point was that all the facebook folks shrieking about compromises voter data – and there was a ton of ’em – didn’t understand that data is public property.

      It was and educational piece. Now my readers know that acquiring voter data is virtually as simple as asking for it. We agree that the Russians viewing that data was not nefarious.

      As far as all of the other facts you cite, those are national issues that I generally tend to avoid. You’re the second person who’s said,”Wait a minute! You didn’t write the column I wanted to read.”

      But I did write the column I wanted to write!


      1. You mean you cherry-picked the issues you wanted to cherry-pick. Sorry, but when you slam “progressives” for being alarmed about Russian interference on the extremely narrow grounds that voter IDs are public records, then back off from looking at anything else the Russians did because “Hey, I’m not about national issues,” it comes off as disingenuous.

      2. Driver’s license info and social security number (any portion) are not public info and should never have been part of any database accessible through the Internet. At the very least this information should have been encrypted. I don’t want to go all GDPR on you, but if you’re going to nit-pick, the state has to do a better job of protecting any data it has and reduce that data to only the necessary information it needs in the context of its records. I’d hate to tell you how much information Metra requires just to get a senior reduced fare pass. It’s mind-boggling. We can’t even trust the state to pass a budget. I suspect the budget for securing the data they insist they need is woefully inadequate to protect it against the type of hacking tools available. So one simple step would be to either encrypt the data or lose it once it’s been verified for whatever purposes they intend. If my voter record requires a driver’s license for validation, check it against other state records and just tag it as verified in the public state voter database. Same with SSN. That’s the very least they can do if they can’t protect it.

      3. Terry,

        As I stated in the columns, I don’t disagree with your contention. I guess,having been a part of the Equifax breach, I just can’t get that excited about my shit being out there anymore.

        But again, my point was, when Dick Durbin makes is sound like the majority of that voter information is NOT public record, then I need to set the record straight!


    2. Pan,

      NO! I wrote a column about a subject near and dear to my heart. Dick Durbin got it wrong and the Illinois State Board of Elections is getting hammered for something they shouldn’t get hammered for.

      And I don’t write about national issues because my audience is local. If you want to read about the whole Russian thing there are a bazillion options, but no one’s explaining how voter data works. Once again, stupid liberals (and I’m a liberal) were shrieking about something they know nothing about.

      Bottom line! If you don’t like the column, don’t finish it!


  2. Jeff,

    One of the other bits of information that came out recently is that Illinois and Arizona were not the only voter databases attacked. There were 37 other states targeted, including a campaign finance database. In Illinois, the hackers attempted to alter voter records, but were not successful. Imagine if they were able to alter voter records. You show up at your polling place and there is no record of you as a registered voter. Maybe your record was deleted or district information was changed. It would theoretically possible to prevent certain demographics from voting. I suspect that this would eventually be discovered in an audit of the database, but it would cause problems in the interim. So the fact that your data is out there thanks to incompetence and laziness everywhere does not mean that we don’t need to do a much better job in protecting that data.

    1. Terry,

      But I answered that question in describing how the ISBE voter database is an aggregation of the 108 County Clerk/Election Commission databases throughout Illinois. And it’s updated on a regular basis.

      So, let’s say the Russians had altered data. The next upload from that or those election authorities would’ve fixed the problem.

      And if the Russians want to try hacking those 108 local voter databases, good luck. Most of them aren’t even online!


      1. Jeff,

        I find it hard to believe that they would replace the entire database on a regular basis. It would be so inefficient. But I’ll take your word for it. But we both know that the only way to fully prevent outside hacking is to be disconnected from the Internet at all times. Inside hacking is another story. And the use of bots theoretically makes it possible for hacks to be run automatically over and over again. So if you restore your data and don’t discover and remove the malware then you’ve really not resolved the problem. We never really get the full story on any of these hacks so we don’t know how they were done or if the problem was ever truly fixed. We do need to reduce the amount of personal data we store in public records. I see no reason to store birth dates in a voter database. Or gender. And the idea of making any voter data public seems reckless when you read stories like this:


        Aside from the fact that this data was exposed on the web, you have to consider that the people collecting it in the first place were engaged in their own form voter manipulation, which we commonly refer to as campaigning. The Russians are just one more bad actor in the whole sleazy world of politics. So we essentially pay taxes that allow the government to collect data on us and sell that data to companies like Deep Root Analytics who massage the data into campaign marketing strategies for their clients. And occasionally this data escapes into the wild where anyone can use it. But the real shame is that real campaigning on issues and ideas is now secondary to marketing strategies based on demographics and how certain groups of voters can be manipulated.

        So instead of just protecting voter data from hackers, perhaps we should make it totally unavailable except for the actual purposes of voting.

      2. Terry,

        Think about it! It’s not replacing, it’s rebuilding it! The 108 local election authorities, some of whom keep local voter data in speadsheets (Jack Cunningham), make all of the daily additions, deletions, changes and corrections required of any similar database.

        Now imagine if, instead of sending ALL of that voter data to the ISBE on a regular basis, they sent the additions, deletions, changes and corrections on paper instead. It would become a data maintenance nightmare of epic proportions.

        So they upload he entire local database on a regular basis and the ISBE simply replaces that election authority’s previous upload with the latest one.

        Again, all the ISBE is doing is aggregating the data, they do no maintenance on it whatsoever.

        But let’s say you’re right and the Russians did screw with the data and the ISBE did make the individual corrections. As soon as a hack was discovered, the ISBE could simply ask the local election authorities to upload all of their voter data and they’d be good as gold.

        Furthermore, when local election authorities (county clerks) run elections, they use their own voter database. They ask for nothing from the ISBE. So, even if the ISBE data was compromised it wouldn’t matter.

        It’s actually a brilliant and virtually fail-safe system.

        Before you doubt me, I was a professional database consultant for 17 years (Wrigley, SBC, Motorola, USG, Philips Electronics, etc..) and I have friends at the highest levels at the ISBE.

        I am dead on on this one!


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