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Utah panel OKs bill striking balance between voter record privacy and campaign access

SHARE Utah panel OKs bill striking balance between voter record privacy and campaign access

Empty voting booths are seen at the Cottonwood Heights polling location on Tuesday, Aug. 15, 2017.

Adam Fondren, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — A House committee voted in favor of legislation seeking a balance between voters with concerns over their private information being shared and political parties and candidates wanting access to voter records.

Debate over SB83 was swift and decisive as the bill had already soundly passed through the Senate. Concerns largely centered on how the a balance between the two conflicting interests would be achieved.

The legislation would permit a political party or candidate to obtain specific pieces of information from a voter registration record classified as private such as a person’s name, address, birth year, political affiliation and voting history.

Bill sponsor Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, acknowledged that it is not a “perfect bill,” but said he believes it is a good step in addressing the needs of individuals who have privacy concerns while also ensuring “our political process can continue.”

The need for the bill arose several years ago when lawmakers passed legislation giving Utahns the ability to make 100% of their voter information protected — a decision made off of the argument that businesses were buying up voter registration lists to market to those individuals as well as putting the information online, Anderegg explained.

However, in the 18 months the bill been in effect, over 13% of the entire voter registration list has disappeared online, he explained, pointing out that this is an issue because it complicates conveying information about candidates.

“How in the world are electorates supposed to know what the issues are and who the candidates are if we can’t get a hold of them?” he asked.

Anderegg estimated that around 50% of voter records will disappear online within the next couple of years if the current law remains in place.

If passed, the bill would still retain the penalty of a class A misdemeanor if the information was shared or sold with outside parties.

Utah Republican Party Chairman Derek Brown and Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant joined Anderegg in testifying in favor of the bill.

Brown emphasized that the legislation would help verify potential incidents of voter fraud, pointing out that currently — the lieutenant governor’s office aside — there is only one person in each county who knows everyone registered to vote and other specific election information.

“The ability to check for voter fraud is pretty much nonexistent,” Brown said. “This addresses that.”

When asked how parties will protect voter information, Brown said one of their plans is to use a nondisclosure agreement and to make sure those with access to the information understand all of the laws’ aspects.

Merchant added that it’s going to be extremely expensive for candidates and parties to let the people know who are running for office, what the issues are and even how to vote.

The committee passed the bill 7-1.