ST PAUL — Citing privacy concerns and a potential "chilling" of the vote, Minnesota lawmakers are one step closer to tightening access to Minnesotans' private voter data.
On Thursday, Feb. 13, Minnesota's House Subcommittee on Elections approved a bill that would restrict who could access primary voter rolls, and what they could do with that data.
Under Minnesota's current primary system, voters must fill out separate ballots depending on whether they vote in the Democratic or Republican primaries. Secretary of State Steve Simon told legislators Thursday that all four political parties then have access to lists of which Minnesotans voted in which primaries — even outside of their own party — and there are "no restrictions whatsoever" on what the parties can do with that data.
"The political culture in Minnesota, at least in my judgment, is that most people don't like to wear their party affiliation on their sleeve," Simon said.
Simon said the possibilities of what the parties can do with voter data — publish it online, sell it, show it to political allies — are "distressing" to voters and can have a chilling effect on the vote. For some, he said it's simply too big of a risk to vote in the primary.
House File 3068 would mandate that voter rolls only be obtained by a single representative of a national political party, and only for the purpose of verifying voter information. Upon receipt of the data, the parties would have to agree not to redistribute it.
State Rep. Tim O'Driscoll, R-Sartell, questioned the need for the bill in the first place. He argued that primaries are not a "bonafide election" like a November presidential race or a gubernatorial election. No one has to vote in a primary and the parties have the right to use data to measure which candidate would be their best nominee, he said.
Simon retorted that by that logic, no one has to vote in any election. But he argued the state should do what it can to make voters feel secure, whether in a primary or general.
In response to concerns about passing the bill when early primary voting has already started in Minnesota, Simon said voter data doesn't have to be turned over to the parties until 10 weeks after Super Tuesday, anyway.