Election email overload: What gives?

One California voter takes a look at a day of campaign mailers, noting, “They’re not going to influence my vote, but they will help heat my house this winter.” Photo: Robert Couse-Baker

By November in a big election year, many residents are familiar with the daily handful of campaign literature that bursts forth from the mailbox in the form of pamphlets, sample ballots and oversized postcards.

But we heard from several readers this election season who noticed an onslaught of campaign emails in their virtual inboxes as well, from a wide variety of sources.

One reader connected the emails to his decision to opt out of receiving the sample election ballot; he said the Registrar of Voters’ office asked for an email address for confirmation purposes when he opted out.

He said he was concerned to find his information turning up in the hands of third parties without his permission.

He wrote: “If Facebook was doing this people would scream bloody murder. Plus I still get paper sample ballots anyway. Not a catastrophe, I understand, but sketchy as hell…”

Another reader said she’d moved out of the area early this year but, as of late last week, continued to receive campaign emails, recently in the double-digits, on a daily basis.

Because the emails were from a broad range of senders, she said, there was no easy way to filter out the emails. And her attempts to unsubscribe didn’t staunch the flow.

Alameda County Registrar of Voters Dave Macdonald said, unfortunately, if people share an email address with the registrar, that information becomes publicly available.

All information on file with the registrar’s office is available for purchase from candidates, campaigns, the media and a range of organizations, such as the Pew Research Center, for “legitimate purposes,” said Macdonald.

“It’s not supposed to be used for advertising, but if they want to send you campaign literature to that email address,” he continued, there’s no rule against it.

Macdonald said campaigns often purchase the voter rolls multiple times, and that voters who send in their ballots early could potentially be removed from subsequent email outreach efforts.

The challenge for his office, said Macdonald, is that “it really helps us if we have people’s email addresses” to communicate with voters. “If we need to send something out, that’s a lot faster, cheaper and easier for us than to send it in the mail.”

He noted that voters can opt out of receiving sample ballots, but can elect to receive an email notification when sample ballots are ready and visible online.

Macdonald said he understands that some residents aren’t happy with all the election messages in their inboxes, and said voters who want their email address removed from the public record can email his office. He receives all the emails, he said.

Macdonald asked residents to give his office a bit of time to catch up from the election before sending in their requests. Voters must include in their request their name, street address, date of birth and email address to have email information removed.

Find more contact information for the Registrar of Voters office online here.

If something around town has you mystified, write to Berkeleyside at tips@berkeleyside.com (subject line: “Ask Berkeleyside”) and we’ll do our best to track down an answer.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/georgeforberkeley George Beier

    Yes, it’s irritating to get unwanted emails in your inbox.  On the other hand, it’s a LOT better than living in a dictatorship, a one party state, a religious theocracy, or a state with no government at all. 

    Every four years the most powerful nation on earth lets its own people decide who will be their next leader.  It’s a fantastic, wonderful thing.    Celebrate those emails.  Then press the delete key!

  • 3rdGenBerkeleyan

    I had that many in ONE day i could have covered my dining room floor with “INFO” i received over the last month. 

  • Irisandjules

    All I see is the gorgeous kitten

  • the Deer

    the more registered voters, the more fliers arrived. I prefer too many emails…

  • The Sharkey

    I’d rather get e-mails than more glossy flyers.
    They might be annoying sometimes, but at least they aren’t as wasteful.

    Did any of the campaigns use a sustainable printer like Inkworks Press, on 7th Street?
    I didn’t see anything saying it was printed by them.

  • bgal4

    It was the endless phone calls that tired me, shows that elections are mostly marketing campaigns.

  • emraguso

    According to the statement I looked at (not the most recent one, so there could be more current info now), Worthington, McCormick, Anderson and Capitelli all used Inkworks.

  • David D.

    I made a terrible decision when I first moved to Berkeley: I provide the registrar with my e-mail address. Luckily this was a while ago, so 2008 was not too brutal of a year for my inbox. When I moved across town in 2009, I updated my registration and left off my e-mail address. It’s been great! I can only imagine how much more spam campaigns sent out this year; it’s amazing what four years of technology has done to politicking.

  • David D.

    I only received no-on-TUFF phone calls. Who else used phone banks?

  • District 5 resident

     I got two live person, phone bank calls – from Measure A1 and from Sophie Hahn.  Then there were what felt like 200,000 robo-calls.

  • guest

    I received a robo call from the write in candidate for Dist. 6.  I would never vote for any local  individual that robo calls.  What nerve.

  • Berkeleyfarm

    I got a robocall from a D2 challenger … on my cell phone.  To add insult to injury, it was Max Anderson (one of my least favorite people).  Have to try to figure out where they got it.