When Doug Odegaard opened up his mail one day this week, he saw an elections letter that made him uneasy.

Americans For Limited Government, a group from Virginia, had sent him a list of voters in his neighborhood, and it had noted whether each had cast ballots in 2004 and 2008. It said an updated “audit” would be sent after the 2012 election.

“When I looked at this, I thought, how much of this is bogus? And how much of it is real?” Odegaard said Thursday.

The letter listed records for both Odegaard and his wife, and she reminded him that at least some of the information wasn’t accurate. The voter history said she hadn’t cast a ballot in 2004, but she remembered doing so because she was in Africa on election day and watched returns from overseas.

This election is bringing a lot of expected haze and noise to campaigns, Odegaard said, but the letter troubled him partly because of the personal – and incorrect – information it shares. He’s been voting in Missoula County since 1990 and hasn’t seen anything like it in previous election years.

“What is the purpose behind it? I’ve read this letter over and over,” said Odegaard, whose letter is posted with this story on Missoulian.com.

In emails and a prepared statement, Americans For Limited Government’s Richard Manning responded. It’s the first year the organization has sent such a mailing, and the letter targets people who “have a tendency to vote but for whatever reason have failed to do so at the most critical moments,” said Manning, communications director.

“(The) mailing has one goal and one goal only, to increase participation in the electoral process,” Manning said in the statement. “We firmly believe that people who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in selecting our leaders are abandoning not just their right to a say but are diminishing everyone’s rights.”

The group aims to “prevent the continued expansion of government,” and it’s “aggressive and nonpartisan,” according to its website, getliberty.com. It sent 2.75 million letters to 19 states; it mailed roughly 36,000 to Montanans, according to Manning.

The letter Odegaard received thanks voters for their dedication, and it offers its “audit” of whether seven people in the Lower Miller Creek neighborhood voted in 2004 and 2008. It has a column for 2012, too, and each entry is marked “pending.”

“I hope the above vote history record is informative,” reads the letter. “As a further service, we will be updating our records after the expected high turnout for the Tuesday, November 6, 2012 election. We will then send an updated vote history audit to you and your neighbors with the results.”

Manning said it was in the group’s interest to send out data that was 100 percent correct, but some errors could be expected: “The data came from a contractor’s compilation of publicly available voter records, and inevitably an extremely small percentage had entry errors.”

***

In his prepared remarks, Manning noted other groups also have recently mailed “get out the vote pieces,” but those letters “either insult or intimidate” recipients. He identified MoveOn.org and the AFL-CIO in Oregon.

“While some may find the ability of campaigns or civic groups like ALG to access voting history worrisome, the reality is that in a representative democracy using voter lists and histories is a fundamental tool,” Manning said.

According to the National Institute on Money in State Politics at FollowTheMoney.org, Americans for Limited Government is a “conservative policy organization.” It spent $3.66 million on political contributions, all on ballot measures, from 2004 to 2010; in that same time period, it spent $18,161 in Montana in 2004 to keep term limits in place, the records state.

The Americans for Limited Government could not immediately confirm the figures or share the amount it’s spending this year in Montana.

The letter has come to the attention of Missoula County elections administrator Vickie Zeier, who has been fielding calls from concerned voters. She said other people have told her their information isn’t accurately presented in the mailing, and they have another complaint.

“The reason I’ve been getting calls is people are unhappy that their neighbors are seeing this information,” Zeier said. “A lot of people don’t realize election information is public.”

She also said the Montana Votes system didn’t go live until 2005, so she isn’t sure how the group is collecting history from 2004 because counties had individual databases before then.

That mailing is one of many the Montana Secretary of State’s Office is getting calls about, said Terri McCoy, communications director. But she said the secretary of state does not control the letters coming from third parties.

“Those mailings are not affiliated with the Secretary of State’s Office and the county election offices,” McCoy said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

More from missoulian.com

(18) comments

Got concrete
Got concrete

Mine said I didn't vote in 2004 also. I've voted every election since High School (30 years). Reminds me of every Obama campaign speech I've ever heard.

Frenchtown Fellow
Frenchtown Fellow

Seriously?! Somebody actually thought this was a good idea??!! The data mining going on in this election year has gone WAY TOO FAR!! These clowns want limited government, except where it suits their own bizarre agenda.

Curmudgeon
Curmudgeon

The A.L.G. is a bunch of A.H.-words.

wonderwhy
wonderwhy

Wait a sec...if they are reporting false information about your voting habits, isn't that a slight form of disparagement? Isn't that grounds for a lawsuit?

OhMyGosh
OhMyGosh

tell them on their facebook page

https://www.facebook.com/AmericansForLimitedGovernment?fref=ts

Got concrete
Got concrete

NO WAY!! I'm not gonna offer them real information! The lies are bad enough.

Jerry
Jerry

My letter missed votes by me and my wife. It also listed voting history for a bunch of "neighbors" that have never lived here. Creepy attempt at intimidation, but to what end?

PelosiGalore
PelosiGalore

I am a conservative and I got one of these in the mail this week. It is all public information, but it creeps me out that they are mailing this to people. For what reason? So that I can pressure my neigbors? I don't want government in my life, and I certainly don't want you in it either.

Dick Summers
Dick Summers

I got that garbage in the mail too, and no I don't vote repub. It had many errors, one of them being me not voting in 2004 or any of my neighbors. I wonder how they feel about the USPS?

bungee
bungee

This is beyond pale. Their phone number is 703-383-0880. When you listen to the menu list all of the extensions I heard were male. When I attempted to connect to one of the extensions it routed me to someone else. Every extension I pressed did not answer. You don't "get a human" when you call them. My message was for them to take my name off their mailing list, that I wanted no further mailings or "service", that what they were doing was wrong and inappropriate and that they need to stop it. I repeated "What you're doing is bad, shame on you. You people are awful and your underhanded approach really sucks." But on one answers when you call. No, they did not only target conservatives, but it's shameful, I have no interest in when or if anyone else voted or inaccurate voting records of neighbors. This is simply awful. Just when you think political campaigning can get no worse, it does and thanks to Citizen's united and laws protecting 501 C4 groups, it's about to get worse than I could ever imagine. Shameful. Totally shameful.

montanamuralist
montanamuralist

Same here...wrongly said I did not vote in 2004. I have never missed an election. Another sleazy conservative right wing nut case group using tactics that, as usual, do not match the facts. This is the reason no one should be voting for anything with an (R) next to their name this year. Sends a much stronger message we are not going to tolerate this stuff. If the Dems do it we will get them next..haha...What is troubling is that a guy like Rick Hill, bought and paid for in this election and Rehberg as well, are leading in the polls here which tells me a majority of Montanans are not to bright and are saying this stuff is ok. Very disturbing.

Roger
Roger

Yeah sure - I'll vote for all Democrats because you advised everyone to do so (LOL). Maybe I'm just not too bright ("to bright" as you put it).

dodegaard
dodegaard

Their election data is wrong and there is no way to know who I voted for in 2008. I think they actually take other data that attempts to see what someone's political leanings are and then match them to public data like demographic data, the fact someone is a business owner, etc and make predictions. This cracks me up since I am an independent voter and most likely would vote against the wishes of this organization mailing me since I vote on the candidate and not by party affiliation. My biggest beef is the possibility of pitting neighbor against neighbor. Imagine saying on a sunny afternoon in your driveway in conversation to someone on your letter "I see you didn't vote in 2004. You know you really should do a better job." etc. Definitely not a way to win friends and influence people. I can't wait for all of this to be over. I would recommend we somehow think of a way to give people the ability to opt-out of their election record data being released just like we have with Do Not Call and privacy laws. The offenders have brought us to the point where we are justified to take that privilege away.

Goldilocks
Goldilocks

There is a difference between facts being public information available to someone who wants to know, and turning around and mailing it out to everyone. I was a little offended, too, because it made me wonder if they knew how I voted or just that I did, AND it isn't any of the neighbors' business whether I voted or not. And I DID vote in 2004! They must have told everyone they didn't vote in 2004. I haven't missed a Federal election since I was old enough to vote. Prior to absentee voting being so easy, I did miss a few local elections. Now I always vote absentee and don't miss any.

skater grandpa
skater grandpa

Did they just send these to people who have been voting republican? I got something that just compared me to my neighbors, no names with a bar graph showing my voting vs who knows what neighbor voting. No names. No indication how many times just that I had more bars than these neighbors. I didn't check out whoever sent it. All just more games being played again only it's getting to more and more silly games. I suppose mine was to talk to my neighbors as many are likely democratic votes, I know some are but probably not all of them. What Odegaard got sounds like something a right wing group would do, listing names. Encouraging him to talk to them about voting as these people likely voted R in 2008, the ones that didn't vote in 2004. Anyway that's what it smells like to me. Or maybe not. But it all is a bit off too me. Another tactic to further divide people maybe.

Dub
Dub

Right wing group??? I think you are being a bit paranoid about this. I'm hearing from some dems that received them also--don't know--I'll just be glad when it all over.

Still Here
Still Here

Do a search of this sleeze ball Ultra Conservative organization working to influence elections in Montana. We are bought and paid for.

J555-5
J555-5

They got me and my wife wrong for 2004. They wrongly said we didn't vote and spread the lie to our neighbors. Anyone want to sue them?

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
PLEASE TURN OFF YOUR CAPS LOCK.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.