Voters’ phone numbers end up in hands of election groups

08/27/2013 9:38 AM

08/08/2014 10:09 AM

Patrick Hough called the Sedgwick County Election Commission office last week to request a ballot for the Feb. 28 special election on the Ambassador Hotel.

Two days later, he received an in-person phone call from “Moving Wichita Forward,” a group supporting the passage of the city ordinance change, asking him to vote “yes.”

So he called the election office and asked if it had provided a list of the phone numbers of the people who request advance ballots.

Yes, he was told, it had.

“It seemed a little bizarre to me,” Hough told The Eagle. “Is that legal?”

Yes, it is. And it’s been that way since 1968.

By state law, each county election officer is required to make voter lists available to the public. At a charge, of course.

The list of those who have requested an advance ballot, or mail-in ballot, costs $60 in Sedgwick County. The charge for the list of those registered to vote is $50. There are additional charges for more detailed information, such as breaking down the registration list by political party.

Both sides of Ambassador issue have requested the advance voter and registration data, said Sedgwick County Election Commissioner Tabitha Lehman.

Representatives of both groups said they have used those lists to make their pitch to voters, either by phone, mail or in person.

“The thing that caught me off guard is I make the request on Wednesday and by Friday they’re calling me advocating their side,” Hough said. “It seems strange that they could get that so quickly.”

But he said he could understand why the groups would be quick to call those on the advance-ballot list.

“They know those people are probably going to vote,” Hough said.

The lists provide the voter’s name, address, phone number and party affiliation. State law prohibits the inclusion of Social Security numbers. Drivers license numbers also are not included, Lehman said.

A person can have their phone number taken off the list, Lehman said, but she noted that would also prevent her office from contacting a voter in case of any problems with a ballot.

State law prohibits anyone from using the voter lists for commercial purposes.

The ballot question in the special election asks whether a voter wants the city to rebate to the developers of the proposed Ambassador Hotel 75 percent of the bed tax paid by the hotel’s guests for 15 years. The total amount is estimated at $2.25 million.

A “yes” vote means you do, a “no” vote means you don’t.

The 117-room boutique hotel is set to go in at Broadway and Douglas.

In September, the City Council voted to change an ordinance so the city could give the developers a portion of the guest tax. That subsidy was forced to a city election by a fall petition drive led by Americans for Prosperity.

The hotel’s developers will pay the cost of the election, estimated at $50,000.

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