Voter registration info has always been public information, but many Utahns learned this fact for the first time in January, when a man in New Hampshire purchased more than a million Utah voter records and posted the information online, sparking fears of the data being used for identity theft and fraud. Tuesday, Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, passed a bill out of a committee to restrict the information being sold off for a profit. It was a bill applauded by some, while others worried the measure did not go far enough.
Mayne said she began working on the bill in response to outrage from constituents over voter information published to the site UTVoters.com, which recently published over a million records, including addresses and birthdates of Utah voters. Mayne says the information could be used to steal identities, commit fraud or used to stalk or victimize people.
Salt Lake County Clerk Sherrie Swensen testified at the committee that the publishing of the information has caused a chilling effect with voters, some even having asked her to withdraw their registrations.
Mayne's bill would seek to restrict the information to allow it to only be accessible for governmental, journalistic, political or scholarly purposes.
Renae Cowley, representing the Utah Media Coalition, spoke in opposition to the bill on behalf of Utah's media, registering concern that Mayne's bill may have unintended consequences by closing off large groups of records considered public under Utah's current Government Records Access & Management Act.
“We'd like the opportunity to work with the senator to find a way to preserve open access and open government while also addressing these specific concerns,” Cowley said.
Mayne hoped her bill would work specifically to keep all voter data out of the hands of unscrupulous businesses, but others at the committee felt the bill did not go far enough.
Ron Mortensen testified during public comment that voter information ought not to be released without the voter's permission. He also didn't trust the information to be given to journalists, political parties and others, given exemptions under Mayne's bill.
“No citizen should have to choose between the right to privacy and the right to vote,” Mortensen said.
Mayne's bill is not the only one to address this issue. At least two other bills are looking to address a way to remove voters' birth dates from registration records.
In closing, however, Mayne won the day by arguing that such information made public could lead to too much harm, that people could even use it to target voters and rob their homes or attack young women alone in their residences. “We cannot be involved in doing harm to our citizens,” Mayne said. “We can't fix everything but we as legislators need to something to protect them. There trust is in us.”
To read SB 36 click here , to contact Sen. Mayne about her bill click here. To find your legislator to contact them about this bill click here. For more updates from the Hill, follow @EricSPeterson and @ColbyFrazierLP on Twitter.