James Madison University students received an unsolicited text on Monday after Democratic House of Delegates candidate Brent Finnegan obtained their phone numbers through a Freedom of Information Act request.
The numbers are public information unless students specifically ask for phone numbers and other information to be withheld. According to the University of Virginia’s Office of the University Registrar, though, it is too late for students to opt out this year.
The text from Finnegan’s campaign encouraged students to register and vote in the Nov. 7 statewide election. The election will decide House representatives, governor, and local races.
“Hey, I’m a volunteer for Brent Finnegan, candidate for the House of Delegates,” the text message read, according to JMU’s student newspaper, The Breeze. “Tuesday is National Voter Registration Day! You can help JMU beat [Virginia] Tech by getting the bigger turnout on Election Day! Would you like more info on voting locally and getting more of us registered than Tech?!”
Directory information, such as a student’s phone number, address, university email account and citizenship status, is considered public under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act of 1974. According to UVa, a student wishing to opt out must inform the registrar’s office in writing within 10 days after the first day of the fall semester.
Private organizations, such as Eastern Mennonite University, aren’t required to share the information.
“The results reported from volunteers were similar to when we knock on doors or send mail,” Kai Degner, a spokesman for Finnegan’s campaign, said Friday. “The vast majority don’t respond at all, some are pleased to hear and learn more, some opt out, some say they are not interested, and a few get frustrated they are being interrupted and contacted.”
Degner said the campaign is finished texting about voter registration and won’t do it again.
Finnegan is running against Republican incumbent Tony Wilt for the 26th District seat in the House of Delegates.