Davis legislator wants tighter limits on voter information

Jan 17 2014 - 10:55am

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NORTH SALT LAKE -- A Davis County lawmaker is weighing in on what voter information should be made public and what should be kept private.

Rep. Becky Edwards, R- North Salt Lake, said she will run legislation during the coming session to protect some information included in the voter registration process in Utah. Her bill, which is still being drafted, would protect birth date data and also include an opt-in line on the registration form people would have to sign to allow their information to be made public.  

Announcement of her bill file comes on the heels of discussion earlier this month about public access to voter registration information. Traditionally voter registration information has been sold as a list to people by the state for $1,050. The lists have become a key resource for the state's major political parties. Earlier this year, one website put that same information online, accessible for free. That spurred Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, and Rep. Lee Perry, R-Perry, to initiate a bill file that would limit access to voter registration lists.

Edwards said her new bill is a combination of measures she ran during the 2011 and 2012 legislative sessions.  

"I said this would become an issue to the public if there were a mass breach of privacy or something," Edwards said. She suggested she was ridiculed by some people for her stance.

She received a "lights out" designation from one of the Utah open records watch groups, who felt her legislation was a restriction of the public's right to know.

"Well, in 2014 here we have the entire voter list published online and everyone now cares," Edwards said.

Community activist Ron Mortensen of Bountiful has been a vocal critic of the state's sale of voter information for years. He likes Edwards' bill, but is critical of Mayne's bill.

He said the Mayne legislation would allow the state to continue to send a message to people who want to vote that in doing so they are allowing their personal information to be accessible by the Democratic and Republican parties, to scholars, or to government agencies to use as they see fit, without limitations.

Connor Boyack, president of the Libertas Institute, doesn't think either piece of legislation will matter much, since the voter information data is already public.

"People who are upset about their information being up for grabs won't have greater privacy under a more restrictive law unless they relocate and change their phone number. Restricting access to voter data won't benefit current Utahns that much -- the real benefit would be seen progressively over the next few decades as new adults register to vote," Boyack said.

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