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Vote-Shaming Mailers About Your Neighbors Aren’t Illegal, They’re Just ‘Creepy,’ Elections Officials Say

Voters in some parts of the city got a letter in the mail purporting to show which of their neighbors voted or skipped out.

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CITY HALL — Voters across the city who got reports from a phony organization about their voting history — and how it compares to their neighbors — deluged Chicago elections officials with complaints Friday — but officials said that while the letters may be “creepy,” they aren’t illegal.

Chicago Board of Elections Commissioners spokesman Jim Allen said whether someone voted in an election is public record — even if who they voted for is private information — and is considered “protected political speech” under the First Amendment.

“This is a cheap stunt,” Allen said. “The best thing you can do is to pitch it. It is creepy.”

The letters from the Chicago Voter Report — with a return mailing address pointing to a Loop office tower — purport to list whether the recipient, along with their neighbors, voted in the March 2016, November 2016 and March 2018 elections.

The letter also had a phony city seal — “which anyone who has lived in the city for more than three months would recognize,” Allen said.

Residents of the 1st, 43rd and 47th wards reported getting the letters. That indicates the letters may have originated with a citywide campaign, most likely for mayor, Allen said.

The letter is designed to “take a new approach to try to” increase turnout and warns — or promises — “to send an updated chart to you, your friends, and your neighbors so we can see how we did together.”

In 2015, 43 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in the municipal election, according to Chicago Board of Elections data.

The letters are designed to use public shaming and peer pressure to get people to vote, Allen said. And recent studies have shown it could increase turnout between 2 percent and 3 percent, Allen said. Similar letters have popped up before elections in 2016 and 2018, he said

“These letters are a nuisance, an irritant,” Allen said. “Ignore them.”