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DFL Party Chair calls on Legislature to protect voter data in upcoming presidential primary

By: - January 23, 2020 2:17 pm

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin at a news conference before the pandemic.

This post has been updated. 

DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin on Thursday called on the Legislature to change the state’s presidential primary law to protect voter information, including party affiliation.

With the state’s first presidential primary in nearly three decades just 40 days away, privacy concerns have emerged among voters who fear their political affiliations could be used against them if made public.

Minnesota changed from a presidential caucus system to a primary in 2016 after high voter turnout stymied and frustrated caucus goers. The law has seen other tweaks made since, including one in 2019 that restricted the sharing of voter data to solely chairs of the state’s major political parties.

Martin, who supported the new presidential primary system when it was passed in 2016, called on the party chairs of the MN GOP, Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis and Legal Marijuana Now to support changes, including limiting the data sharing with a national party representative solely for the use of “guaranteeing the validity of that primary.”

But MN GOP Chairwoman Jennifer Carnahan declined to sign on to the DFL’s calls, saying in a statement and on Twitter Thursday that it is akin to “changing the rules in the middle of the game,” adding that “the majority of Americans would be against whether we are talking about the Superbowl or an election.”

She called the privacy concerns raised by the DFL and others “baseless.”

Among the changes proposed by the DFL are restricting the sharing of party affiliation data to only a national party representative “for the purposes of guaranteeing the validity of that primary.” Another provision would subject information on which voters participated in the primary to the state’s Data Practices Act. A third would allow voters to opt out of the collection of party affiliation data when they cast their ballots in a primary.

“The Minnesota DFL strongly supports bipartisan efforts to protect the privacy of Minnesotans voting in our presidential primary,” Martin said in a statement Thursday.

The parties could technically do what they wish with the data, including publishing it, but chairs for the DFL and Republican Party say the data will not be used for nefarious purposes.

In a news conference, Martin insisted the party was motivated to protect voter information, saying criticism by some that it could siphon off Democrat votes was not why the DFL was proposing changes to the state’s primary law.

“This is not a partisan issue,” he said. “Voter privacy is not a party issue.”

Still, with early voting already underway, it’s unclear if any changes made early in the upcoming legislative session — even before the March 3 primary — would make a difference in the current primary election.

“There’s no guarantee,” Martin acknowledged. “Our hope is that this is one of the first bill’s that’s addressed and passed quickly.”

A phone message seeking comment from the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party was not immediately returned Thursday.

Marty Super, chairman of the Legalize Marijuana Now Party, said the party intended to stay out of the debate. “We don’t intend to use any of the data,” he said. “Voting should be completely private.”

While the two pro-marijuana parties won’t have a ballot in the election, the party chairs nonetheless would receive a list of voters’ names and party affiliations for anyone voting in the primary.

The candidate a voter selects will remain private.

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Ricardo Lopez
Ricardo Lopez

Ricardo Lopez is the senior political reporter for the Reformer. Ricardo is not new to Minnesota politics, previously reporting on the Dayton administration and statehouse for The Star Tribune from 2014 to 2017, and the Republican National Convention in 2016. Previously, he was a staff writer at The Los Angeles Times covering the California economy. He's a Las Vegas native who has adopted Minnesota as his home state. In his spare time, he likes to run, cook and volunteer with Save-a-Bull, a Minneapolis dog rescue group.

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