Utah House passes bill giving candidates access to voter information

(Trent Nelson | Tribune file photo) Citizens vote at the University of Utah's Marriott Library in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, March 3, 2020.

House lawmakers on Tuesday passed legislation giving candidates greater access to voter registration information, after stripping out a section that gave heightened privacy protections to legislators.

The proposal aims to strike a balance by protecting voter information while allowing political parties to hold caucuses and candidates to campaign intelligently, House Minority Leader Brian King said. Current law allows Utahns to shield their information entirely, and right now, 13% of voter information is private. Legislators are expecting that number to climb to about half of all registered voters within a few years, the bill’s supporters have said.

“It ... was something that frustrated candidates when they were trying to identify individuals who would be the most likely individuals to receive favorably the message that particular candidate was trying to provide,” King, D-Salt Lake City, said.

Under SB83, voters would still be able to protect their information from the general public. However, candidates would have access to voters’ names, addresses, years of birth, party affiliations and past election participation.

Still, select voters — such as victims of domestic or dating violence, law enforcement officers and members of the military — could completely secure their information, withholding it even from candidates and political parties. Previously, the bill also let state lawmakers and other elected officials keep their voting records secret, but changes brought forward by Rep. Karianne Lisonbee removed this provision.

Lisbonee, R-Clearfield, argued that lawmakers shouldn’t enjoy greater protections than their constituents and argued for modifying the bill “so that we can be consistent and that we can go back and face our voters who may have good reasons why they might want their voter registration private.”

Or, as Rep. Brady Brammer, R-Highland, put it, lawmakers should be able to tell constituents “what’s good for thee is good for me.”

The legislation, endorsed by the state Republican and Democratic parties, passed the House by a 46-22 vote, opposed by some lawmakers concerned about an erosion of voter privacy.

Privacy activist Ron Mortensen has decried the bill as one that can disenfranchise voters if they don’t agree to open their personal information to campaigns. “There is no opt out for average citizens. They either comply or must relinquish their right to vote,” Mortensen said.

The Senate will now review and consider the changes made in the House.