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Minnesota lawmakers scramble to address voter privacy ahead of Super Tuesday

Updated: January 29, 2020 07:41 PM

Minnesota is part of Super Tuesday this year and voters have already started casting their ballots, but there are concerns over privacy.

Under state law, voters have to request either a DFL or Republican ballot for the Presidential Primary. Information about which ballot they choose can be given to the chairperson of each major political party in Minnesota.

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“The public is saying we don’t want our data out there,” said State Representative Peggy Scott (R-35B).

At a press conference Wednesday, Rep. Scott and other Republican lawmakers unveiled a bill to deal with concerns over how that political party information could be used.

“Quite frankly, in the last four years there's reason, there's valid reason for people to have concerns over retaliation,” said Rep. Scott.

Her legislation would prohibit the Secretary of State’s Office from collecting ballot choice information, both in absentee ballot voting and at the polls.

“The hope is to pass it before the Primary happens and then any information that's already been gathered and recorded would be purged,” she said.

Rep. Scott voted in favor of the 2016 law that established regulations for the Presidential Primary.

“I think what we've heard from the public, too, has given a lot of legislators, you know, maybe pause to think about should we have done that in the first place?” said Rep. Scott. “One of the things as a legislator I think it’s important to do, is to pivot and also respond to the public.”

She’s not the only lawmaker re-thinking her vote.

Senator Ann Rest (DFL-45) authored the original law in 2016. She said the national political parties required the data collection.

She has proposed a different bill to reduce who has access to the data. Her legislation would require the Secretary of State to provide the list to a single representative of the national committee of each major party.

According to the bill, that information “may only be used to verify compliance with applicable national party rules governing the nomination of a candidate for President of the United States.” It would also allow voters to opt-out of providing the information.

“Do I wish I had done it [in 2016], or thought it was possible? Or that there was a way around doing that? Absolutely,” said Sen. Rest.

She disagrees with Rep. Scott’s bill.

“I absolutely applaud their instincts,” Rest said of Rep. Scott’s efforts on Wednesday. “But totally making Minnesota irrelevant in the process of choosing our nominees, which this would do because the DNC is not going to change its rules, that I take strong objection to.”

Senator Mary Kiffmeyer (R-30) also shared concerns.

Sen. Kiffmeyer said in a statement, “Again, voting in the primary has already started and we can’t change the rules now. Furthermore, the national political parties have said they will not seat the Minnesota delegates to nominate their candidates. We shouldn’t put our voice in the nominating process at risk this late in the game.”

An argument Republican Rep. Pat Garofalo (R-58B) disputed at Wednesday's press conference.

"It is 100 percent not true," he said. "They are not going to remove delegates that are duly elected for the State of Minnesota at their national conventions. If they did, it would be a political disaster for the State of Minnesota."

Minnesota House Speaker Melissa Hortman (DFL-36B) released the following statement on Minnesota’s presidential primary:

“The Minnesota House DFL supports increased voter privacy in the presidential primary. However, any change will require agreement with Senate Republicans and Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer — something they have shown no interest in so far. I would encourage anyone concerned about this issue to contact Sen. Kiffmeyer, Majority Leader Gazelka, and Senate Republicans.”

Majority Leader Paul Gazelka’s (R-09) office deferred to Sen. Kiffmeyer.

Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin released the following statement:

“The problems surrounding privacy in our presidential primary are not partisan, and the solution to those problems should not be partisan either. I applaud Representative Peggy Scott for listening to her constituents and taking action to protect voter privacy and ensure every Minnesotan feels free to cast their ballot. 

"While Representative Scott and I share the goal of ensuring party affiliation data remains private, the solution she has proposed would place both the Minnesota DFL and Republican Party in violation of the rules of our national Parties. The DNC and RNC require information on who participated in their respective primaries in order to certify that no widespread partisan interference occurred.

“It is entirely possible to both protect the privacy of Minnesotans and allow our parties to defend the integrity of our presidential primary. Secretary of State Steve Simon’s proposal would block national political parties from using this data for anything more than certifying the validity of Minnesota’s presidential primary. 

“Despite this minor difference, I’m confident that DFLers and Republicans can find common ground on this issue. I look forward to working with Secretary Simon and lawmakers from both parties to get this done.”

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