How political campaigns are able to text you with personal information
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — As robocalls become more popular and the number of landlines dwindle, political campaigns are now texting people to encourage them to vote.
A number of people reached out to us on election day asking how campaigns are getting your cell phone numbers. We found out they have even more information than that on registered voters.
The day before Election Day, Jennifer Brooks got a text from an unknown number.
It said, “Hey, Jennifer, we see you vote in Presidential Elections, but can you join your neighbors on (Brooks’ street name) and vote in our city elections tomorrow. It’s going to be a close election!”
She didn’t respond. The following day, Brooks received another message from the same number. It said, “Most of your neighbors on, (Brooks’ street name) have already voted. When are you planning to vote? Shoot me a text when you voted, otherwise I’ll give you a ring around 5 p.m. to check in.”
Brooks said this text went too far.
“I asked these people to leave me alone. I said, ‘Wow, this is creepy please lose my number.’ I also told them I am reporting this to the election board,” said Brooks.
According to Indiana Laws, IC 3-7-26.4-6 and IC 3-7-26.4-12 political parties can subscribe to the Indiana Voter Registration system for an annual $5,000 fee. Voter Registration forms say your number is optional but they don’t disclose you could be contacted by campaigns if you share it.
“If I had known that I was going to receive these text messages, I would have completely opted out and not have included my phone number on there,” said Brooks.
Indiana Democratic Party Chair John Zody said you can opt out after the fact. He also emphasized that this information is kept secure within the party and isn’t shared with anyone.
You can text back the word “STOP” to opt out.
“Or you just text back, ‘Please stop communicating with me’ and there’s a button on the system we use to just say opt out,” said Zody.
However, that didn’t work for Brooks.
“They replied three hours later saying, ‘Under 3 hours to vote, calling you at 5 p.m.’ I didn’t want them calling me,” said Brooks.
She wanted to know how they were able to tell whether she voted yet. Zody said parties can get this through county election boards.
“It’s not automatic and it’s not in every county but that information is publicly available to the political parties from the counties, so at certain times on Election Day, there are arrangements with the county to get updates on people who have voted,” said Zody.
He said it’s useful so they don’t have to contact people who have already voted.
“You do whatever you can that’s appropriate, respectful, legal to get out there and communicate with people and this will be one of those things that is worth the investment because it’s a way to communicate with people to get out there and vote,” said Zody.
Though Zody said many voters appreciated the reminders and information provided in the texts, Brooks found it invasive.
“It was creepy!” said Brooks.
We asked people on Twitter whether they wanted political campaigns to text them, 95% of people said no.
If you want to stop campaigns from texting you, the best thing you can do is refuse to share your number on the registration form. If you already have, you can go back and change it by clicking here. However, even if you change it, there is no guarantee the political parties won’t save your information.
You could contact your lawmakers to see if they can make texting voters against the law. You could also ask state legislators to require campaigns to stop texting you if you ask them to stop.