By Ronald Mortensen / Feb 15, 2017 / Columnist at Utah Standard News
– Proposed HB159 automatically registers anyone obtaining or renewing a Utah driver’s license to vote. The state then sells key elements of the voter record including the voter’s full name, address, phone number, party affiliation and voting history. This information can then be posted to the Internet. Passage of this bill is expected to be relatively easy.
– Proposed HB348 limits access to a voter’s personal information to government officials, political parties and candidate and groups investigating voter fraud. It ends the public sale of voter records and voters’ personal information. It also prevents the entire voter list from being sold by the state and posted to the Internet. Passage of this bill is expected to be very difficult.
– Ideally the voter records would only be accessed by state election officials and organizations investigating voter fraud. However, both the Democrat and Republican parties insist that they must have access to the voter records. Financial institutions, insurance companies and health care providers also demand access to the personal information of all voters.
HB159 provides that an individual who applies for or renews the individual’s driver’s license or state identification card will be registered to vote unless the individual opts out.
County clerks argue that this will (1) streamline the voter registration process, (2) reduce delays at polling places, and (3) ensure that all voter addresses are up-to-date so ballots can accurately be mailed to voters in vote-by-mail elections.
The bill is also designed to increase voter turnout of young voters by registering them when they get their driver’s licenses and then activating their voting registration when they turn 18.
Once the voter registration is completed, the Driver License Division transmits the individual’s information electronically to the Lt. Governor’s Office—full name, date of birth, driver license or state identification card number, last four digits of the social security number, phone number, email address, residential address, mailing address, place of birth, signature of the individual named on the form and mailing address, if different from the individual’s Utah residential address.
Once the Lt. Governor’s Office has the voter information, it is mandated by the legislature to sell the voter’s personal information including the full name, address, phone number, party affiliation and voting history.
Anyone with $1,050 can purchase the entire voter list with the personal information of over 1.4 million registered voters including the information of people who may want or need to keep their information private but who are not even aware that the state is selling it.
Victims of domestic violence or others who fear for their safety can take a police report or court order to their county clerk and ask to have their voter record made private. This re-victimizes these individuals since they have to provide proof of their victimization in order to get their voting records made private. If they don’t take this affirmative step to make their records private, their records will be made public and the individuals safety will be compromised.
Others whose safety may be at risk, such as members of the military who have been told to exercise extreme care in protecting their private information because of threats from Da’esh (ISIL/ISIS) against their families, as well as individuals who risk being stalked, have no way to protect their records.
So, before legislators pass HB159, they need ensure that they do no harm or at least mitigate the harm done. They can do this by first passing HB348 which makes all voter records semi-private by limiting access to the records to government officials, political parties and candidate and groups investigating voter fraud. Individual voters will have the option of making their information fully public should they desire to do so.
Ideally the voter records would only be accessed by state election officials and those investigating voter fraud. However, both the Democrat and Republican parties insist that they must have access to the voter records. Since Republicans and Democrats hold all seats in the legislature and these same legislators use the records for their campaigns, they will not pass a bill that denies Democrats and Republicans access to the voter records.
Financial institutions, including payday lenders, insurance companies and health care providers also currently have access to the records of all 1.4 million voter records including voters’ full birth dates. HB348 eliminates their access to this information so they will strongly oppose HB348 and fight to keep their access to the voter records.
According to existing rules, those accessing the voter records, including political parties and candidates, have a special responsibility to protect the records and ensure that they are not used for anything but the activities specified in Utah code. If the records are misused or improperly disposed of, the penalty is a class A misdemeanor and a fine.
So, if both HB159 and HB348 pass, the biggest problems associated with HB159 will be mitigated but not all privacy issues will be resolved. If only HB159 passes, even more people will have their personal information made public and sold by the state, including teenagers and victims of domestic violence, and this personal information will eventually be posted to the internet.
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