Criticism of R.I. secretary of state continues to build

Amid criticism, Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea on Tuesday doubled down on her refusal to provide The Providence Journal with a digital copy of the state’s voter database that includes critical information that enables the news media — and other government watchdogs — to detect whether voters are registered in more than one city or town in Rhode Island — or in more than one state.

The information at issue is birth dates, which the secretary of state’s office previously has not withheld.

Acknowledging that the birth dates of Rhode Island’s voters are a public record that can be viewed one by one at local boards of canvassers, the newly reelected Gorbea offered up a potential compromise.

“We are providing a public terminal, available at the Department of State’s Elections Division, that will allow any person to search the full voter file, including full dates of birth, and run related queries during regular office hours,″ she said.

It was not immediately clear if her suggested compromise would satisfy the concerns of her critics, who in recent days included the New England First Amendment Coalition and the House GOP Caucus. The Journal’s Oct. 29 request for the voter files, with full names and birth dates, is still pending.

In a statement to The Journal late Tuesday, Democrat Gorbea said, in part: “As Secretary of State, I have made government accountability and transparency a hallmark of my administration …. Unfortunately, we live in a technological era characterized by the rapid erosion of personal privacy and the ever-increasing risk of cyber crimes and identity theft.

“The decision to provide only year of birth information in the bulk download of the voter registration database — consisting of more than 790,000 voter records — was made to protect Rhode Islanders from the possibility of identity theft. Nothing in Rhode Island law requires inclusion of any birth date information, or maintenance and delivery of the database in an electronic and searchable form.”

Beyond that, she said: “The argument that the omission of birth day and month information could encumber a third-party analysis of the voter registration database is unfounded. In fact, less than 0.5% of the roughly 790,000 voter records share the same full name and year of birth.”

Translated: Less than 3,950 of Rhode Island’s registered voters have the same full name and year of birth. (Read more…)