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Concerns remain over bill to protect voter info

Published February 24, 2014 2:49 pm

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2014, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

A House committee approved a bill seeking to protect Utahns' voter information, even though several representatives expressed reservations about loopholes in the law and whether the bill goes far enough.

The bill, SB36s3, sponsored by Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, comes in response to a New Hampshire man who posted the searchable voter registration database online.

Mayne's bill would prevent releasing the voter database and using it for commercial purposes. But it has exemptions that let academic researchers, polling firms, journalists, and political parties get access to the database, which caused heartburn for some House members.

An amendment was also added to let financial institutions get access to the database to help with identity verificaiton.

"Where specifically in this bill is there any protection?" asked Rep. John Mathis, R-Vernal. "Almost anything we do could be classified as political, scholarly or journalistic in one way or another."

Mayne acknowledged that many don't think the bill goes far enough, but said her measure is a compromise with the parties and media representatives and avoids First Amendment conflicts.

Ron Mortensen, a conservative activist who has pushed to protect the information, said Mayne's bill is a "thinly veiled attempt to make voters think the Legislature has taken strong steps to protect them." In reality, he said, voters will still have to choose between a right to vote and a right to privacy.

He supports an alternative bill, sponsored by Rep. Becky Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, that would only allow release of voter information if the voter affirmatively agrees to have the data made public.

That bill, HB302s1, is awaiting a vote in the House. Mayne's bill, which made it out of committee on an 8-1 vote, despite the concerns, now goes to the House for a vote, as well.