At least 78 registered voters had their protected, confidential information recently released by the Arizona Secretary of State’s Office, according to a press release issued by Secretary of State Katie Hobbs on Tuesday evening.
The press release called the disclosure of protected voter information in reports provided by county recorders to political parties and candidates “a functional error” unrelated to any type of security breach. It also noted all voter data is now secure.
However, Hobbs did not explain how the error occurred or whether her staff has confirmed all faulty reports have been “destroyed or returned” as requested in an email sent Tuesday morning to 13 of the state’s 15 county recorders. The other two counties, Pima and Maricopa, utilize their own voter databases.
Last fall Hobbs’ office switched voter data to a new statewide system called AVID, or Access Voter Information Database. Some voters are eligible to participate in an address confidentiality program designed to protect victims of domestic violence, sexual offense, or stalking.
Other voters, such as law enforcement officers, prosecutors, judges, and court staff, are permitted under Arizona Revised Statute 16-153 to file an affidavit with their county’s presiding judge asking to seal any “identifying information” on voting registration documents for themselves and their family.
AVID has multiple uses, and during election season the database is relied on by county recorders to produce reports showing which voters requested early ballots. The reports also track which voters have returned their early ballots, which is useful information for candidates and get-out-the-vote advocates leading up to election day.
But according to Hobbs, an unnamed county official informed her office Tuesday that protected voters were included on an early ballot report.
“We contacted all the counties to let them know that their reports may also contain this protected information,” Hobbs said. Her office urged each county to reach out to any of the 78 affected voters identified so far to discuss “mitigation efforts.”
It’s unclear what time the county official contacted Hobbs’ staff on Tuesday, but public records obtained by Arizona Daily Independent show a High Importance email was issued to all county recorders and other officials by Janine Petty, the deputy state election director, at 7:29 a.m.
Petty’s email advised the recorders that some AVID reports shared with political parties “may have included secure voted information.” The county officials were urged to check their lists and removed any files involving protected voters.
Then at 8:46 a.m., Petty sent another email advising that the issue had been resolved for future Early Ballot lists. However, the faulty reports were still in circulation.
“We request AVID counties to confirm whether any previously produced lists contain secured voters and if so, please try to claw back the lists from recipients and ask them to destroy the files,” Petty wrote in the second email.
Tuesday, however, was a busy day for Arizona’s county recorders due to the Democratic Party’s presidential preference election. One county recorder confirmed receiving the emails Tuesday morning, but by mid-afternoon had not had time to contact everyone who may be in possession of the faulty reports with the confidential voter information.
News of the release of protected voter information has moved swiftly through political circles.
“The incompetence In Secretary of State Katie Hobbs’ office is astounding,” stated David Eppihimer, Chair of the Pima County GOP. “Whoever is responsible for releasing to county recorders the names of voters on the “protected list” must be fired and investigated to determine in the “error” was intentional. It’s no secret that the Democrat and Green Parties are not friends of law enforcement and conservative judges. If it is found that the act was intentional, the culprit must be prosecuted to the full extent of the law, especially if it’s Katie Hobbs herself.”
“Moreover, asking recorders to destroy these records is ludicrous,” continued Eppihimer. “If anything untoward happens to anyone on this list, the fault lies at the feet of Katie Hobbs.”
It is unclear whether Hobbs or any county recorder has legal authority to demand the political parties and candidates return or destroy the faulty reports.
According to ARS 16-153, a court order issued to seal voter registration is valid for five years. Once sealed, “the information in the registration shall not be disclosed and is not a public record.”
“I could not be more outraged,” said Rep. Kelly Townsend (R-LD 16) Chair of the Arizona House Elections Committee. “This is the second time that we have had a data snafu due to carelessness in recent months. Releasing ESA (Empowerment Scholarship Accounts) parents’ information was bad enough,” Townsend said, referring to Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman, “but now we have a list of 78 voters with protected addresses being released who are victims of domestic violence, sexual offense, or stalking.”
“With the coronavirus causing stress and fear during an uncertain time, now these folks have to add additional anxiety, knowing their sensitive information is now out there.” Townsend concluded, “Regardless of efforts to mitigate the mistake, you cannot put this genie back into the bottle.”