Bipartisan group of lawmakers proposes bill to protect primary voters' privacy

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Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, discusses her bill to protect presidential primary voter data on Wednesday in St. Paul.
Tim Pugmire | MPR News

A bipartisan group of state lawmakers announced a new proposal Wednesday to protect voter data collected in Minnesota’s presidential primary.

The legislation would restrict the sharing of party preference data. State political parties could only share voters’ names with a national party representative for the purposes of verifying participation. The data would also be classified under state law as private, and voters could opt out of having their names on the lists.

Sen. Ann Rest, DFL-New Hope, is the Senate author of the bill. Rep. Ray Dehn, DFL-Minneapolis, is the House author. Dehn said during a state Capitol news conference that voters want action.

“I’ve had many, many constituents and people across the state of Minnesota contacting me and saying, ‘You need to change this. I will not be voting in the presidential primary if my data is available to everybody,’” he said.

Minnesota’s switch to a presidential primary this year has raised concerns about a provision in the law that allows political parties to learn the partisan preferences of voters. Participants are required to declare their allegiance to a party before getting a ballot.

“This is a big deal, and I think it needs to get done before the election,” Sen. Jim Abeler, R-Anoka, said.

Last week, a group of House Republicans announced a proposal to stop the collection of data and force a purge of the data already collected as part of early voting, which started last month.

Secretary of State Steve Simon, who supports the Rest and Dehn bill, said counties won’t aggregate and report the participation data until 10 weeks after the March 3 primary.

“There is plenty of time to get this done,” Simon said.

Despite bipartisan support for the legislation, it isn’t clear the Republican-controlled Senate will go along.

“Voting in the primary has already started and we can’t change the rules now,” said Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, R-Big Lake, who chairs the Senate’s state government and elections committee.

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