Beckett is back now with a must-read story that pulls back the curtain a little more on some decidedly low-tech data-gathering, and also carries a click-inducing headline—“In Minnesota, Democratic Grandmas Gather Data About Their Neighbors.” Here’s the lead:
In Minnesota, Democratic volunteers scour their local newspapers each morning for letters to the editor with a political slant. They pay attention to the names of callers on radio shows. They drive through their neighborhoods and jot down the addresses of campaign lawn signs.
Then they feed the information into a state Democratic Party database that includes nearly every voter in Minnesota.
Some of the states’ few dozen data volunteers are so devoted that they log into the party database daily from their home computers. Deb Pitzrick, 61, of Eden Prairie, convinced a group of her friends to form the “Grandma Brigade.” These women, in their 50s, 60s and 70s, no longer want to knock on doors for the Democrats. Instead, they support the party by gathering public information about other voters.
Beckett’s article includes a judicious discussion about privacy concerns. (The chair of the state’s Democratic party acknowledges modern campaigning is “a little big brother”; one of the leaders of the “Grandma Brigade” counters, “Is it any different than having Best Buy have [this information about] you?”) And it notes a tension that was central to Petulla’s piece for CJR—while the Obama administration and some in Congress are bringing new scrutiny to the commercial data-broker industry, “the administration has been silent on what if any rights voters should have regarding the data gathered about them” by campaigns. But most of all, it’s a great bit of reporting, and an excellent read.