Domestic violence victims need to be able to vote without being outed

Our country went through a landmark election last fall. Unfortunately for some, especially those who are domestic violence victims/survivors, the right to vote was jeopardized because to do so was a safety risk. I am one of them and did not think I was going to be able to vote. I live in hiding from my ex-boyfriend, who is an out-of-state law enforcement officer.

I ended up feeling safe enough to vote after WCNC-TV featured my story and talked to the Board of Elections about my situation. But after I voted, I was informed that I would need to return to the Mecklenburg Board of Elections to fill out paperwork to officially remove myself from the system. My real name and county were at risk of being made public just like all the other voters.

If that happened, anyone, including my ex-boyfriend, could see where I voted and even worse know where I was living. Domestic violence victims can have their safety jeopardized if their location is made public, because it allows offenders to easily find them. All the steps I had painfully taken to protect my safety could be jeopardized by one vote.

How does one choose between exercising the right to vote and staying safe? This was a difficult decision for me. I wanted to vote, but I also wanted to stay safe.

Domestic violence victims/survivors often do not have anyone to turn to for help, especially in police-perpetrated violence. Sometimes our pleas for help fall on deaf ears. As citizens of this great country, we should not have to fight for the right to vote, feel safe and be protected! There should be measures that protect privacy and prevent personal information from being made public.

Fortunately, the N.C. State Board of Elections & Ethics Enforcement has made one major improvement. In March, the board changed its system to prevent victims’ information from being visible on the voter lookup tool on its website. Unfortunately, all voters are still at risk of having some of their data, including their name and home county, exposed through a publicly accessible board database. That needs to be fixed so that victims/survivors will be able to vote safely and without any fear.

Witlee Ethan is an alias used to protect the author’s identity.