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Curious Voter Shaming Casts a Shadow Over Pennsylvania’s Primary Elections

The 2018 Pennsylvania primary elections were already under the microscope this year, but a curious effort to shame people into voting could put even more eyes on the results.

A group called Pennsylvania State Voter Program has sent letters and emails to random people in at least seven counties throughout the state with information on whether their neighbors have gone to the polls in the last three elections. Election officials say the group is not a registered political action committee and they have no information about it.

The letters appear to have also been sent to voters in other states.

There’s nothing illegal about the group obtaining the information. It’s all part of the public record and available to anyone who wants it for $20 in Pennsylvania. The data includes personal information, including party affiliation, though it does not include a specific voting history. Candidates frequently use it for voter outreach.

Still, residents are uncomfortable knowing that the information is now being shared with people in their neighborhood. And G. Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Franklin & Marshall College, called the mailings an inappropriate effort meant “to embarrass people into voting.”

The question no one can answer is: Why send the notes at all?

“It’s really hard to say what their objective is,” Kyle Kopko, an Elizabethtown College political science professor, told Lancaster Online. “It could be to boost turnout overall, or target voters who might be sympathetic to a certain type of candidate, or something else altogether.”

Even before the controversy, Pennsylvania’s primaries have been of particular interest to politicos. The state’s district map was recently redrawn, which could shift the political landscape, and there are seven vacancies for the House of Representatives, the most since 1976. A key Senate battle is also taking place in the state.