Tangle over voter data splits Republican lawmakers

A woman speaks at a podium
Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, and other Republican lawmakers said Wednesday that they will introduce a bill that would stop Minnesota election officials from collecting information from voters about which party’s presidential primary ballot they choose.
Brian Bakst | MPR News

A group of Republican state lawmakers announced Wednesday they would introduce a bill to halt collection of data by Minnesota election officials about which party’s presidential primary ballot voters choose.

The bill they intend to bring before the Legislature next month would also force a purge of any data already gathered in early voting ahead of the March 3 primary.

Minnesota is holding its first primary since 1992. The rules, particularly that voters express allegiance to a party to get a ballot, have caused a stir. All four major political parties will get access to the full data set.

Rep. Peggy Scott, R-Andover, said she’s heard from constituents who fear their party information would be misused or they could face reprisals for aligning with a party.

“Many Minnesotans have shared their concerns that the government will be recording which party ballot they choose. In Minnesota, we have a history of protecting people’s private information,” Scott said. “This instance should be no different. Your vote is your business.”

Many states have formal party registration, but Minnesota does not.

The plan from Scott and at least four other GOP legislators goes further than other proposals to limit the use of the voter party preference data.

Minnesota lawmakers approved the primary in 2016 out of frustration that party-run precinct caucuses were too messy. As part of the new primary conducted by the state, the major parties said they needed access to the preference data to remain in good standing with their national parties. The national Democratic Party, for instance, intends to use the information to certify that there wasn’t significant crossover interference.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin said the Scott bill would put his party in violation of those rules and could threaten the seating of Democratic delegates at this summer’s national convention.

“It is entirely possible to both protect the privacy of Minnesotans and allow our parties to defend the integrity of our presidential primary,” Martin said in a written statement, suggesting a compromise could be made.

DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon is also pushing for restrictions on the use of data that would keep it from being sold or otherwise abused.

State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, said she opposes changing the rules now, given that voting has already begun. She is chair of a committee where election bills must go through in the Senate.

“We shouldn’t put our voice in the nominating process at risk this late in the game,” Kiffmeyer said.

The state Republican Party chair, Jennifer Carnahan, also opposes a switch at this point. She has said there is no evidence the data will be misused.

As of Friday, more than 4,400 ballots had been returned and more than 24,000 absentee ballots had been requested.

Democrats have 15 candidates and an uncommitted option on their ballot, including some candidates who have recently left the race. Republicans will see only President Trump’s name but will have a write-in line, too.

Lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 11.

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