Presidential primary voter data collection sparks partisan feud

Man at podium talking
Minnesota DFL Party Chair Ken Martin called for protections to voter data collected in the presidential primary during a state Capitol news conference.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

The chairs of two of Minnesota’s major political parties are in a dispute over whether more restrictions are needed on the use of voter information gathered in Minnesota’s presidential primary election.

Minnesota DFL Chair Ken Martin said Thursday that he wants lawmakers to make changes early in the 2020 session that begins next month to make sure voter lists aren’t widely shared.

But Republican Party Chair Jennifer Carnahan said calls by Democratic Secretary of State Steve Simon and the DFL Party to rewrite the law are premature.

Early voting is already underway for the presidential primary on March 3. Voters have to choose which party they affiliate with to get a ballot.

The names of the voters and which party’s ballot they choose will go to the DFL, the Republicans and the state’s newest major parties, Legal Marijuana Now and Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis.

Martin said the prospect of the voter information being made public has already had a chilling effect.

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“We have heard over the course of the last several months from numerous voters who are concerned about their party affiliation data becoming public, and who do not plan to vote in this upcoming presidential primary as a result,” Martin said.

The state Republican Party is not on board with the proposed adjustments.

Carnahan said the DFL concerns are baseless, and the primary voting should move ahead unimpeded. Calls by Democrats to rewrite the law are premature, she said, and it's wrong to suggest the data will be misused.

“I just want to be very clear in stating the Republican Party of Minnesota has absolutely no interest in selling the data, sharing the data with anyone. We take data privacy and the privacy of our voters very seriously,” said Carnahan.

The chair of the state Senate committee with jurisdiction over election matters agrees with Carnahan.

“The 2017 bipartisan bill instituting the presidential primary was signed by Democrat Gov. Mark Dayton and passed by a Republican Legislature,” said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake. “With the voting process already underway, let’s see how this works in 2020. If we need to make changes, there is plenty of time to do so before 2024.”