DENVER — Theresa VanDerhoof has spent the past 14 years avoiding her violent ex-husband.
“He`s thrown me down the stairs, he`s punched me so hard that it`s broken ribs,” said VanDerhoof, adding, “He’d put notes on my car. He would follow me, he`d figure out where I was.”
Even now, Vanderhoof sleeps with mace under her pillow and every few months she Googles herself, to make sure her address and phone number don’t appear online.
Her stomach sank three weeks ago when she discovered all her personal information on the website “ColoradoVoters.Info.”
“I`ve never felt that violated in all my life. My information is out there now, my ex-husband does one search of my name, he`s going to find me,” said VandDerhoof.
The Denver area woman never guessed that registering to vote for the first time in more than a decade would make her feel so vulnerable. “I never would`ve registered to vote had I known my information was going to end up on the internet and put me and my children in jeopardy,” insisted VanDerhoof.
Colorado’s open records law allows anyone with $50 dollars to buy the state’s voter list. The list includes names, phone numbers, addresses and party affiliations of anyone who happens to register.
A New Hampshire man used the list to create the website “ColoradoVoters.info” and it’s not just domestic violence survivors who are concerned.
“I`ve had death threats against me and yet my information is required to be public,” said Scott Gessler, Colorado’s Secretary of State.
The Republican office-holder said he’s very sympathetic to domestic violence victims who suddenly find their once-secret address on the World Wide Web. “I think this is the first time we`ve really had to grapple with this issue because of people now publishing the voter database online,” said Gessler, who added, “Sometimes that bumps up against people`s needs for confidentiality for safety purposes.”
It turns out you can register as a confidential voter in Colorado but even Gessler admits, “Not enough people know about that.”
“I’ve never been told that it was an option when I’ve registered to vote in this state,” said Amy Miller, the Executive Director of Colorado Coalition against Domestic Violence.
Miller told FOX31 Denver it irritates her that state Department of Motor Vehicle workers, who register the majority of voters, hardly ever mention that for $5 people can fill out a confidential voter form that keeps their address and phone number private.
“The reason that kind of an option exists is because people`s lives are in danger and that`s something we need to take seriously,” said Miller.
The confidential voter form is only available at County Clerk and Recorder offices, not at the DMV. It’s not an option online and VanDerhoof says it’s certainly not an option she was ever told about. “It`s great that they have it but not publicizing it doesn`t help anyone,” said VanDerhoof.
Secretary of State Scott Gessler admits more needs to be done to advertise the availability of confidential voter forms. “I don`t know the exact solution but I can say this is something at the top of the radar screen that we need to solve,” said Gessler. The Secretary of State added no one should be discouraged from voting for fear of a stalker.
In the meantime, VanDerhoof told FOX31 Denver she sent a signed affidavit to the New Hampshire man behind the website “ColoradoVoters.Info” asking him to remove her information. He agreed but VanDerhoof worries that someone could still retrieve her information, since it was posted online for a few weeks.