(This article first appeared in Broad + Liberty.)

Gov. Josh Shapiro allowed his signature to be used on mailers guiding people to request mail-in ballots through Vote.pa — a URL that closely resembles the official state voter registration website of vote.pa.gov but which also surreptitiously collects user data for political campaign purposes.

The new revelation underscores the deep extent to which Pennsylvania Democrats and left-of-center organizations have invested in the website that one Republican state representative called an “obvious attempt to steal information from voters or potential voters.”

Vote.pa is owned and managed by Commonwealth Communications, a 501(c)(4) political nonprofit managed by JJ Abbott. Abbott has a long resume in Democratic politics, including a stint as press secretary for former Governor Tom Wolf. Aside from managing Vote.pa, Commonwealth Communications sponsors various political messaging that supports Democrats and left-of-center causes.



The photo of the mailer was posted to X by Allegheny County Council At-Large Member Sam DeMarco, who is also chair of the Allegheny County Republican Party. DeMarco later provided a fuller picture of the mailer, pictured here.

Vote.pa allows people to register to vote on that site, and was launched in 2020. For the first couple of years, the site had a prominent disclaimer that by using the forms provided on its pages, a user would be consenting to receive messages from the site. That disclaimer then disappeared sometime in the fall of 2022, according to an analysis of website captures made by the Internet Archive.

For most of 2023 and 2024, visitors to the website would have had to click through to the privacy policy on a completely separate page to understand that they were giving their data to political operatives. The policy says, “We may use your personal information in connection with our political efforts and activities.”

The website looks like it was taking advantage of the fact that only about nine percent of Americans click on a website’s policies before using, and even fewer read through those policies completely. Those estimates come from a 2019 Pew Research report.

A request for comment to the governor’s office was not returned.

Just as Broad + Liberty was preparing on Monday to report on the site’s data harvesting and had requested comment, the site’s managers removed the voter registration option from its home page.

The mailers with Shapiro’s signature were sent by The Voter Project Fund, a sister organization to The Voter Project. The Voter Project’s website is sparse, but has an oversized button that says, “CLICK HERE TO REGISTER TO VOTE” which links to Vote.pa.

As Broad + Liberty previously reported, Shapiro attended a small party on April 7 at Penn State Abington sponsored by The Voter Project that was focused on voter registration. A social media post shows the governor using an iPad to verify his voter registration, but it’s unclear whether the registration party was guiding people to vote.pa or to the actual state website.

With the new information that Shapiro is working hand in hand with The Voter Project and its sister organization, a valid question is whether Shapiro’s 2022 campaign had access to the kinds of data the project had been collecting for about two years. Or, does Shapiro expect to be able to make use of the data in a re-election campaign in 2026?

Those questions and others were put to the governor’s office, but the request for comment was not returned.

In Broad + Liberty’s first story, State Rep. Seth Grove (R – York) said, “Vote.pa is an obvious attempt to steal information from voters or potential voters who are very likely looking for the Department of State’s website.”

Grove went further on Wednesday.

“The Governor of all people should be ensuring accurate information is being provided to voters promoting an official government website,” Grove said. “I’m calling on Governor Shapiro to set the record straight right now and recommend voters go to vote.pa.gov for voting information, not a misinformation website looking to harvest data from voters. Regardless of the separation of his campaign and official activities, he is the Governor, citizens pay close attention to what he says in any capacity. I am also calling on the Governor to convene his Elections Threats Task Force and condemn this website immediately.”

With the new developments of the Shapiro mailer, more Republicans voiced criticism.

“While, at the moment, it may be legal to do this, and we are checking to determine if it runs afoul of state or federal law, it certainly doesn’t pass the ethical smell test,” said State Senator Cris Dush (R – Cameron, Centre) , who chairs the senate’s State Government Committee with oversight of the Department of State.

“We’ve seen far too many of these leftist organizations taking on the lessons learned from scammers who have been tricking our citizens into giving their personal information to rip off our constituents. That the governor would sink to the same level, especially after his time as attorney general and seeing the devastating effects of these rip off artists, is a clear indication that he is no longer on the side of the citizens of this Commonwealth.”

Senator Kristin Phillips-Hill (R – York), who also serves on the State Government Committee, echoed some of those criticisms.

“This is an egregious example of creating a website to trick voters into thinking it’s the Department of State. What is worse is that the governor, who recently created a nebulous election security task force, is peddling this site,” Phillips-Hill said.

“Instead of propping up a website intended to deceive voters, he should be busy with his CODE PA initiative to figure out how else the .pa domain could exploit hardworking Pennsylvanians into thinking they are interacting with their state government when in reality, they are handing over personal information to activists,” she concluded.

A request for comment to the Senate Democratic caucus was not returned.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Senator Bob Casey sent out a post on X that urged followers to “map out” a plan to vote, and linked to Vote.pa.

Casey appears to have a close relationship with the lead manager for The Voter Project Kevin Mack. According to a CNN transcript, Mack had Casey’s ear during the few days between the end of the 2020 election and when Pennsylvania was finally called for Joe Biden.

Mack’s professional biography, which has since been removed from his firm’s website, used to boast that his work for The Voter Project had helped Democrats win Pennsylvania.

On the right, a website run by right-of-center activist Scott Pressler also appears to harvest user data. However, Pressler’s web URL, earlyvoteaction.com, is not a close match to the official Department of State’s site the way vote.pa is. Additionally Pressler’s site contains conspicuous disclaimers that would give a user pause. Those disclaimers are not only on the home page, but also when a user moves to the registration page for a specific state.

It’s currently unclear if any elected officials have directed people to Pressler’s site the way Democratic Senators Jay Costa (Allegheny) and Judith Schwank (Berks) have with their campaign affiliated X accounts.

Vote.pa used to have a conspicuous disclaimer telling users by using the website they were consenting to be contacted later, but those disclaimers were dropped sometime around the beginning of 2023.

For example, in January of 2023, Vote.pa’s voter registration page had no disclaimer present. But a capture of the website from August 2022 shows the voter registration page had a disclaimer reading, “**By submitting this form, I agree to receive periodic emails from the VOTE.pa Team. I understand that I may unsubscribe at any time.**”

Emailed requests for comment to Commonwealth Communications, The Voter Project, and Voter Project Fund were not returned.

IRS 990 forms that are a window of transparency into some nonprofits shows that The Voter Project has been funded over the years by groups like The Hopewell Fund, Sixteen Thirty Fund, and New Venture Fund.

All of those groups are aligned with or are part of the constellation of nonprofit organizations managed by Arabella Advisors, an organization the Atlantic called “The Massive Progressive Dark-Money Group You’ve Never Heard Of.”