Bill would give campaigns access to private Utah voter information

(Leah Hogsten | Tribune file photo) Voterise director Hope Zitting-Goeckeritz at the Capitol, Feb. 7, 2020. Voterise 2020 announced their initiative to increase voter participation among Utah women on Friday, in advance of first-in-the-national Women's Voter Registration Day, Feb. 14, 2020.

Utah voters won’t have the option to make their voter registration information completely private from political candidates and their campaigns if a bill aimed at loosening protections passes through the Legislature.

SB83 passed the Senate without a dissenting vote and is now headed to the House after clearing the House Government Operations Committee with only one member opposed.

The legislation, which has been endorsed by the state Republican and Democratic parties, gives candidates running for public office access to voter information such as name, date of birth, address, party affiliation and voting history. Voters previously had the option of making all of their information private to anyone but the government, but this bill grants access to “a candidate for public office, or an agent, employee, or independent contractor of a candidate for public office."

Sen. Jacob Anderegg, R-Lehi, SB83′s sponsor, said his amendments are designed to help balance voter privacy while “ensuring our political processes can continue.” To date, 13% of voter information is currently private and legislators are expecting that number to climb to about half of all registered voters within a few years, he said.

Anderegg says that these privacy protections make it “virtually impossible” for candidates to effectively campaign to voters they are targeting, negatively impacting election campaigns. Leaders of both major political parties in Utah supported the bill.

“If we don’t do something about this, [then] it’s going to become extremely expensive to be able to do any sort of campaigning in the state of Utah,” said Jeffrey Merchant, state chairman of the Utah Democratic Party.

Derek Brown, chairman of the Utah Republican Party, said he’d love to see the bill go further, but that he thinks it addresses the privacy concerns and takes a step toward helping with voter fraud.

Ron Mortensen, a privacy and identity theft activist, is a vocal opponent of the measure.

His big concern is that for most residents, it makes the right to vote contingent on granting consent to having their personal information shared with political candidates. Elected officials, police, members of the military and the spouses of these individuals, people with protective orders or who are or are likely to be victims of domestic or dating violence can ask to have their information kept private from political parties by filling out a special request form.

“There is no opt out for average citizens. They either comply or must relinquish their right to vote,” Mortensen said.

He’s also concerned about campaigners for political candidates having access to this voter information because it opens the doors for criminals to gain access “simply by volunteering for a candidate or filing as a candidate.”

“No other private entity can make a fundamental right contingent on a citizen forcibly participating, uncompensated, with their organization as these two parties are trying to do,” Mortensen said.