Dan Sparks: Action should be taken to protect voter privacy

Published 8:39 pm Friday, February 14, 2020

Senate Report by Dan Sparks

Dan Sparks

 

The 2020 legislative session kicked off Tuesday, as legislators came back to St. Paul to get to work on the issues Minnesotans care about. As I mentioned in my last column, the big topic for 2020 will be creating a bonding bill investing in our state’s public assets and infrastructure. It’ll require bipartisan support to get it done, and it is my hope we will get a final bill that makes strong investments when we adjourn in May.

While bonding will take up much of the discussion for 2020, there’s another piece of legislation that I hope we can tackle in a swift and bipartisan manner. This year Minnesotans will participate in a presidential primary, which will replace the caucus system we have used in previous years. While this change was made to encourage participation, an unexpected consequence of the switch may actually turn people away from the ballot box.

This year voters will have to request a ballot to participate in either the Republican or Democratic presidential primary. While the candidate they vote for will remain private, a fluke in the law allows the information of which primary they voted to be shared with the respective chairs of the state’s major political parties. Unfortunately, there is the potential for this information to be used in ways it shouldn’t be, and we must protect this data from any potential misuse.

Thankfully, there are bipartisan solutions currently in the works to assure voters that their information will be safe and secure. First, we should allow all voters to opt-out of the collection of party affiliation data when they cast their ballots. Second, all information on which voters participated in a party’s presidential primary must be kept private under Minnesota’s Data Practices Act. Third, only a national party representative should receive party affiliation data, not state party chairs and solely for the purpose of guaranteeing the validity of that primary.

It was never the intent or wish of the Legislature for voter data to be released when we switched to a primary, and voters deserve extra layers of protection for their privacy. The Minnesota Secretary of State has been very supportive of prohibiting parties from using voters’ information for anything other than election purposes, and I’m hopeful that my colleagues in the Legislature will come together to get this done.

The majority of Minnesotans work in non-political settings, and many are in positions where, if known, any kind of political affiliation could impact their professional life. Nobody’s vote should affect their professional or personal life, and no person’s voter data should be available for potential abuse. With the March 3 primary coming up and people already voting early, let’s pass common-sense legislation to protect voter privacy.

Dan Sparks, DFL-Austin, represents District 27, which includes all or portions of Dodge, Faribault, Freeborn, Mower and Steele counties in the southeastern part of the state.