Minnesotans who are holding back from voting in the presidential primary because they’re worried about their privacy can take heart: There is a remedy in the making, but it needs your help.
Many voters are still learning that if they want to vote in the primary they must ask for a specific party’s ballot. And sign a loyalty oath to the party whose ballot they chose. And have their names and ballot selection (though not their candidate choice) distributed to all four of Minnesota’s major parties, who have no legal restrictions on how they use the data.
That doesn’t sit right with a lot of Minnesotans. There’s a reason why we are among the minority of states that do not require registration by party. Minnesotans value voting (we’re usually at or near the top for turnout nationally), but we also prize our privacy.
A new effort to restore a measure of privacy is gathering support among House and Senate lawmakers, backed by Secretary of State Steve Simon. Information would still go to the national parties, because they have said that unless they can check for voters who may have crossed over to another party’s primary they won’t count the results. But this proposal would tightly regulate how that data is used and distributed.
National parties could use it for cross-checking, but the data would otherwise be classified as private. Other uses, including publication or sale to vendors, could incur stiff penalties. Included is a badly needed opt-out provision for voters who want their ballot selection kept entirely private.
DFL Sen. Ann Rest and GOP Sen. Jim Abeler have bills to do all that, and have some bipartisan support. They could use more, and so could the House, where DFL Rep. Ray Dehn is carrying the bill. Legislators should be made acutely aware that Minnesotans reject any backdoor attempts at party registration, that they want to exercise their voting rights without having their party choice broadcast to every major party in Minnesota, to be used for who knows what purposes.
They will need all the help they can get, because a primary obstacle to this effort is GOP Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who chairs the elections committee and who remains opposed. Kiffmeyer told an editorial writer that the legislative session has just begun, and the process should be allowed to unfold. But that deliberately overlooks the fact that there is an earlier deadline here.
Presidential primary voting will culminate on March 3 in Minnesota. About six weeks after that, Simon is obliged to turn voter data over to the parties. The sooner the Legislature can pass this remedy, the sooner voters can be assured of at least some measure of privacy as they cast their ballots.
Abeler said he is “100 percent in” on the privacy bill. “I’m convinced it is absolutely necessary,” he told an editorial writer. “I’ve had constituents tell me they go to get their absentee ballot and when they find out they have to reveal their party choice, they decline. I’ve talked to election workers who say they’re talking about de-escalation training, people are getting so worked up about this. Most people still don’t know and when they find out, holy cow. I’ve talked to city workers, judges, you name it, people who don’t want this information out there. It needs to be fixed and right now.”
We couldn’t agree more. This is a critical election and Minnesota wants its primary results counted, but voters are within their rights to insist on some basic privacy.