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A mysterious group is publicly shaming Pennsylvania residents with their voting records

I voted.
A badge of honor.
By Alice Truong
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Ahead of Pennsylvania’s primary elections today (May 15), some residents are getting publicly shamed with their voting records in an apparent attempt to boost turnout.

A mysterious group called Pennsylvania State Voter Program has been sending letters and emails throughout the state containing information on whether local residents went to the polls in the last three elections, local news site Lancaster Online reported.

G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, told the news site that it was an effort to “embarrass people into voting.”

The following is a letter dated May 9 obtained by Lancaster Online:

Dear _____,
Why do so many people fail to vote? We’ve been talking about the problem for years, but it only seems to get worse. This year, we’re taking a new approach. We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work, and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote.
This chart shows the names of people you know and their voting histories. After the May 15th election, we intend to mail an updated chart. You and your friends, your neighbors, and other people you know will all know who voted and who did not vote.

Below the text is a table with voters’ names, addresses, and whether they voted in elections in November 2014, March 2016, and November 2016. Under May 15, 2018, there is a question mark, and the group said it intends to send an updated list after the elections. The data does not show how people voted. This information was culled from a public registry that is available for $20, and is commonly used by candidates and political parties for voter outreach.

Still, some residents felt unease about this campaign. There hasn’t been information on who’s behind the group, which isn’t affiliated with any government office but uses a seal in its letterhead that could lead some people to believe it is. In addition, the envelopes, postmarked from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, say on the front: “Important taxpayer information enclosed.”

Pennsylvania’s primaries this week will be closely watched by Democrats (paywall) after the state’s Supreme Court redrew a GOP-favored congressional map, which is expected to help Democrats pick up a handful of seats. Voters will also choose the Republican gubernatorial candidate; current governor Tom Wolf, a Democrat, is running uncontested in the primary.

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