Lawmaker wants to make your voter info ‘opt in’

Posted at 6:07 PM, Feb 11, 2014
and last updated 2014-02-11 23:35:11-05

SALT LAKE CITY -- In response to thousands of Utah voters' personal information being posted on a website, a bill being drafted in the legislature would change how you register to vote.

Under current procedures, voters have to "opt out" of having information shared. If Rep. Becky Edwards' bill passes, voters would have to "opt in."

"It's just trying to protect the voter's person information and saying to a voter, do you realize it could be public? And if you're OK with that fine, opt in, but make an educated decision about what's best for you," Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said in a recent interview with FOX 13.

Edwards said her bill would change the rules for how personal information gleaned from voter records is used.

"It protects seniors from being scammed because of their age, it protects that vital information that's used so frequently in identity theft," she said.

Edwards' bill is coming in response to a website that posted the names, birth dates, addresses and political party information of every registered voter in Utah. The creator of the site did what many political parties and special interest groups have done for years -- purchased it from the Lt. Governor's Office for about $1,000.

The information has always been available via public records requests. Edwards said she attempted to run similar legislation in past years, but constituents complained to her when the website was on the news.

The bill could dramatically affect political parties and candidates' campaigns. Dave Hansen, a campaign consultant, said it could affect his efforts to reach potential voters with candidate mailers, phone calls and get out the vote efforts.

Hansen said his voter list would go from "a million names to 30," under the bill. He also feared it could affect efforts to make sure elections were clean.

"I think it's one of those things we need to take a look at," he said of the bill. "First of all, nobody wants to have too much information out there. I think it's something that should be studied and maybe some reasonable alternatives to the list, but materials being released is available."

The chairman of the Utah Democratic Party, Sen. Jim Dabakis, D-Salt Lake City, said political parties need the list.

"It wasn't the political parties that abused this," he told FOX 13. "It was the state that sold the list."

Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, is running a similar bill that would restrict the information and make it a crime to publish it, but allow access for political parties and others. On Tuesday, her bill was circled on the Senate floor for modifications to be made.

"What I would support is a penalty to political parties or people that let that information go anywhere else," Dabakis said. "But trust me, political parties need that information that is there."

Edwards challenged the notion that it would harm Republicans, Democrats or anyone else. She said she expected opposition from both major political parties.

"Parties exist to help the voters, and this is not helping the voters," she said. "I think they need to find a 2014 approach to the way they've used this information in the past and I have confidence they can do it. This will not harm their ability to reach their constituents."