Our View: Parties protected, transparency lessened

Friday , March 28, 2014 - 12:46 PM

Editorial Board, Standard-Examiner

In the waning moments of the Legislature, pols passed a bill that allows political parties the opportunity to pore over pertinent data in the state’s voter registration database; yet it sends the media begging to the lieutenant governor’s office, or a county clerk’s office to access pertinent information in order to cover a news story.

Senate Bill 36 makes some admirable steps toward protecting an individual’s privacy, but its failure to allow media comparative access to the database harms transparency. If political parties and financial institutions can have access to voter registration lists, yet media organizations cannot, our priorities are skewed. Political parties and financial institutions use these lists to their personal benefit. Media access to the list is designed to inform the public.

SB36 is the result of justifiable outrage by Utah residents at learning their voter registration information is for sale sans privacy protections. Any person or organization can buy the voter registration list for $1,050, minus Social Security numbers, driver’s license numbers and email addresses. Last year, an outside group which had purchased the registration list published it on the Internet.

The completed version of SB36 adds birth dates on the list as private. It offers individuals who believe their safety is compromised by having the information sold the chance to request — in person — the county clerk that their record be private. The public can still have access to view voter registration information that includes names and political history, but not birth dates.

But here, as mentioned, is where it falls short. The bill allows “qualified categories” to purchase the database, which includes birth dates. These include government officials, health care providers, insurance companies, financial institutions, and political parties.

But not the media; those who report the news to the public have to request such information on a case-by-case basis. That omission should be corrected next year.

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