You may be seeing an increase in questions at the desk or via IM about finding San Francisco and Oakland voter registration records either online or elsewhere. By this I don’t mean information about registering to vote, but about locating other peoples’ party affiliations and voting records, either for an individual or for a community (such as a zip code). These questions are most likely from Journalism students who are assigned to a beat in either San Francisco or Oakland, specifically. You can always refer them to Nicole, but here’s some basic info on finding voter registration records that you can share with them as well.
In general, voter registration information is nearly impossible to find online for free because it’s regulated by law and because this information is actually sold for profit to political organizations and marketing companies (they purchase access to databases with voter registration lists, such as this one: VoterListsOnline). Some counties, such as San Mateo County, do provide an online form you can fill out to request the records (thank you, Hesper, for pointing this out!), but there is still a price to pay. However, because voter registration lists are a matter of public record, anyone is legally entitled to access them for free. The student needs to go in person to their local county Election Office and request them. If they call ahead and ask, you may find that they will process your request by mail (the rules change from time to time). Students should be advised that they are requesting very sensitive information. If the Election Office refuses to provide the lists, they can cite the Freedom of Information Act and their legitimate need as journalism students (they will need to present their driver’s license or state ID plus their SFSU student ID).
Here are the local county election offices for San Francisco and Oakland:
Dave McDonald, Registrar of Voters
1225 Fallon Street, Room G-1
Oakland, CA 94612
As for finding the information online, here are some strategies they can try, but they may not work. Students should be encouraged to go in person to City Hall instead:
1) For a prominent person, use campaign contributions websites such as http://moneyline.cq.com/pml/home.do, (to locate simple party affiliation) or
2) Use the voter registration lookup tools on the JOUR300 research guide. However, they are designed to be used by an individual to look up their own status, and will only work if you have that person’s home address and birth date. The tools can also be a bit buggy. Here’s the tool for Alameda County and here’s the tool for San Franciso County.
A) Finding the birth date for a prominent person can sometimes be accomplished using encyclopedia entries such as Wikipedia or our soon-to-be-lost Brittanica, or using biographical sources such as the Lexis Nexis People search. For a less prominent person, FaceBook can be a surprisingly easy way to find a person’s birth date. Many people list their birth dates without realizing they’re freely providing what should be privileged information.