Just in time for Los Angeles’ runoff municipal election Tuesday, some residents have received letters listing the voting records of their neighbors in a purported attempt to turn out the vote.
One letter provided to KTLA had no return address but bore a logo for the “California Voter Awareness Project,” which has no apparent online presence. The envelope was labeled in red "Important Taxpayer Information Enclosed."
“Why do so many people in Los Angeles fail to vote?” the letter read. “This year, we’re taking a new approach. We’re sending this mailing to you, your friends, your neighbors, your colleagues at work, and your community members to publicize who does and does not vote.”
The letter then lists the recipient's name followed by nine apparent neighbors, along with whether they voted last June, in November and in March.
Under May 16, 2017, the date of Tuesday's city runoff election, the letter lists a question mark for each person. It says an "updated chart" will be sent after the election.
“My wife and I both got one of these letters and we are so furious we will not be voting in this election,” one person wrote in response to the Facebook post.
L.A. voters on Tuesday are weighing a charter amendment that would change who sits on disciplinary hearing boards for Los Angeles Police Department officers, as well as two City Council and two school board runoffs races.
At least four people in the city contacted KTLA after receiving the letter, and other examples have been posted on social media. One recipient, Jared Makuch in Reseda, said his letter included the street addresses of people he is friends with on Facebook, not his neighbors.
Recipient Levon Tchayelian of North Hollywood called the letter a "threat," saying his voting record is "no one's business." He refused to vote "out of principle" after reading the letter, he said.
In an email to KTLA, another recipient called the letter "creepy."
“This is probably legal, but is nonetheless unsettling to have my personal information splashed around for the neighborhood to view,” that recipient wrote.
That voter pointed to a Facebook post from the California Voter Project, apparently a San Diego-based group that claims to work to register voters. In the post, the project denied any connection to the letters.
“We have received numerous complaints about voters receiving a letter from ‘California Voter Awareness Project,’” the organization posted on Facebook. “We are in no way affiliated with the sender of this letter as we are California voter project.”
The project initially told those who receive the letters to contact the state Fair Political Practices Commission, but that Facebook post was later removed and replaced with a statement with no mention of the FPPC.
“My wife and I both got one of these letters and we are so furious we will not be voting in this election,” one person wrote in response to the initial Facebook post.
A spokesman for the Fair Political Practices Commission, which regulates campaign finance reporting, confirmed Tuesday that the regulatory body has received multiple complaints about the mailer.
The letters, however, are not in violation of the state's Political Reform Act and are therefore not under the jurisdiction of the FPPC, commission spokesman Jay Alan Wierenga said.
“It may be unseemly” but information about whether individuals voted in elections is public record, he noted.
And the mailer may not be subject to any city election regulations because it doesn't mention a candidate or ballot measure.
The president of the Los Angeles City Ethics Commission, which regulates campaign finance among other issues, said the mailer likely doesn't meet the definition of a "campaign communication" and therefore wouldn't be subject to city disclosure requirements.
But commission President Jessica Levinson said the letter was like a "high school cafeteria approach to getting people to vote."
"Overall I think it's enormously dispiriting to try to shame people into voting," Levinson said. "Clearly voter turnout is a huge problem in our city ... but it's terribly depressing that we think the only way to get people to weigh in on their representatives and proposed laws is to publicly embarrass them."
Turnout was about 21.3 percent of registered voters in the Los Angeles March 7 primary election, according to county records.
Asked about the mailers, the Los Angeles City Clerk's Office sent KTLA a statement from the California Secretary of State's Office that acknowledged receipt of complaints about the "California Voter Awareness Project" letters.
"While state law permits election information and data to be used for 'election purposes,' including for voter registration and get-out-the-vote efforts, we believe that better strategies exist, besides public shaming, to increase voter turnout and voter participation," said Sam Mahood, press secretary to Secretary of State Alex Padilla.
"Those who employ such tactics should be aware that state law expressly prohibits the use of election data to harass voters or voter households," Mahood continued.
He referred voters to a confidential complaint hotline, 800-345-8683.
Correction: An earlier version of this article failed to specify the state law that the FPPC spokesman referred to when he said the letter was not in violation. The post has been updated to indicate he referred only to the Political Reform Act.