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.