We know when you voted

Info easily accessible

Hillsborough County Commissioner Ronda Storms voted in this year's primary elections on Sept. 2 at the Bloomingdale Library, as did her husband, David. George Steinbrenner's wife, Joan, voted on Aug. 31 at the Jan Platt Library in South Tampa (without The Boss, apparently.) State Rep. Kevin Ambler voted on Aug. 23 at the County Center downtown, and Pinellas County Commissioner Ken Welch voted on Sept. 1 in Largo.

How do we know this? Do we have teams of snoops following all these people around watching them vote?

No, their names and voting information can simply be downloaded from the state Division of Elections, which — for the first time — has posted spreadsheets online with voluminous lists of every person who voted early in the state of Florida.

Those lists include the names of 25,289 voters in Hillsborough County and 10,599 in Pinellas. Finding out if your neighbor or co-worker or anyone voted, when they voted and where they cast their early ballot is as easy as clicking a button and loading that file into your favorite spreadsheet program.

No other category of voters, including those casting absentee ballots, is subject to that kind of disclosure. One voting expert is appalled.

"I think it's bizarre, and I think voters should be outraged," said Lillie Coney, the coordinator for the National Committee for Voting Integrity in Washington, D.C., (votingintegrity.org). "That's a huge privacy problem."

How did this happen? And more to the point, why?

The Florida Secretary of State's Office can help a bit on the how. According to spokeswoman Jenny Nash, a change in state law that took effect in January not only makes the lists public records but requires the Division of Elections to make it available. Absentee ballots are governed by a different state law that specifically exempts them from disclosure as public records except to campaigns and political parties, among others.

But Nash said she did not know why early voting lists are treated differently, punting that question to the Legislature. We couldn't dig up by deadline the House of Representatives staffer who worked on the 2005 voting legislation.

Whatever the intent, the result may cast a chill on voting early, and therefore cut access to the ballot, Coney said.

"You are literally going to have people disenfranchised because they are afraid to go the polls," she said.

There's some consolation: So far there are no systems in place to make public how individuals voted.

At least not yet.

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