Personal intrusion in the age of politics

You probably receive all sort of direct mail items during election season. We all do. You know the type… glossy, gauzy postcards highlighting the amazing qualifications of one candidate or the dastardly history of the other. Or sometimes it’s an official looking envelope which winds up being a hit letter on an opponent or a request for donations. It can be annoying, but it’s a fact of life and mostly harmless for the recipient.


But Ann Althouse was the receiving end of a very different type of mailing this week, and people should take notice. It included a list of her neighbors and if they voted in the past.

I obscured names and addresses, but be assured, this was a list of real names and addresses of people who live near me, with the information about whether they voted in the last 2 elections. This is an effort to shame and pressure people about voting, and it is truly despicable. Your vote is private, you have a right not to vote, and anyone who tries to shame and an harass you about it is violating your privacy, and the assumption that I will become active in shaming and pressuring my neighbors is repugnant.

That certainly seems disturbing to me, but I suppose it could be worse. At least they’re not publishing how you voted, for example. (I’m fairly sure that’s not even possible. Or at least I hope so.) But out here in New York, Professor Jacobson brings us a tale of people receiving even more disturbing mailings.

A few days ago a reader sent me a mailer he received telling him the political contributions of his neighbors. He wrote:

Professor Jacobson:

I got a mailer, claiming to be part of an authorized study project at your alma mater, Harvard University, listing some of my political donations along with some of my neighbors’ donations. The point of the study is not really explained in the email, but the point seems to be whether veiled threats influence future donations. In California and other places as well, the Left has a history of using this information to harass and intimidate private citizens.


Again, this may not reveal an individual’s voting choices, but by listing who you send your hard earned dollars to, people can make a pretty good guess. I realize that the information is available in public databases, so folks could find some of this if they actively sought out the information. But that’s different than having it shoved in your face while you’re going through this month’s bills.

These may be neighbors who have no interest in getting into political fights with the people next door over the back fence. Is this really the sort of political behavior we should be tolerating? Or is it just another case of, “there are no boundaries in politics anymore and all’s fair in love and elections?”

Update (Allahpundit): Madison Conservative, one of our regular commenters, e-mailed us on Friday night a few hours before Althouse’s post was published because he received the same mailer from the Greater Wisconsin Political Fund and was outraged by it. Ed and I didn’t get around to posting on it yesterday but here’s his transcription of the mailer:

Dear Registered Voter:

Scott Walker won in 2010 because too many people stayed home!

Two years ago, more than half a million Wisconsinites who supported Obama failed to vote in the 2010 election. And that’s how Governor Scott Walker got elected. This year, we’re taking a new approach. We’re sending this mailing to you and your neighbors to publicize who does and does not vote.

The chart shows the names of some of your neighbors, showing which have voted in the past. Look at the list below: are there neighbors on this list you know? Call them or knock on their door before Election Day, and ask them to go vote on Tuesday, June 5th.

After the June 5th election, public records will tell everyone who voted and who didn’t.

Do your civic duty – vote and remind your neighbors to vote.


He attached a photo to prove that the letter did indeed contain a list of names and a notation as to whether each person had voted in the last two elections. (He blacked the names out in the photo.) Said MadCon in his e-mail to me:

My … concern is that they’re sending out this kind of list to a mass number of people with fairly personal information, as well as the theme of shaming people into voting. Shouldn’t whether or not one voted be their own business? It’s one thing to knock on doors and ask if you can talk with the residents about a candidate. It’s entirely another to knock on their door and target them because of their voting history.

The combination of the implied initiative and the talk of a future list makes the entire tone rather hostile.

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