On February 13, 2020, MCN public policy director Marie Ellis testified in front of the House Subcommittee on Elections in favor of bill HF3068 — a bill that, in short, would help protect voter privacy in Minnesota’s upcoming presidential primary on March 3, 2020. The bill sponsored by Rep. Raymond Dehn (DFL-Mpls), would place restrictions on that data, with the aim of making it less likely primary voter party preference will be shared publicly. If you are up to date on the current debate concerning voter privacy, you can watch the hearing of the bill, including Marie’s testimony. If you want more context and to understand why this issue is important to nonprofits and what you can do to protect voter privacy, keep reading.
Background and Context
In 2016, the Minnesota State Legislature decided to return to statewide presidential primaries to increase civic participation and voter access in the election cycle — two things that were barriers to participation in one-night-only caucus events hosted by Minnesota’s major political parties. Early voting for the March 3, 2020 presidential primary began on January 17, 2020 and will culminate on Super Tuesday.
If the current law remains in effect, it means that when Minnesotans cast their vote during the presidential primary, they must state their party preference in order to get the primary ballot for that party. Then, that information is collected and their name and party preference must be made available to chairs of each of the major political parties in the state. The fact that an individual has voted in any particular elections has always been publicly-available information. The change for this primary is that the party’s ballot a voter chooses will be recorded and the concern is that it could become public.
How this impacts the nonprofit sector
MCN is a statewide membership organization representing over 2,200 nonprofit members. Our members are heavily invested in strengthening their communities through, among other things, promoting democratic building blocks like voting and participating in the Census. In fact, “Building a Strong Democracy and Encouraging Civic Participation” is one of three objectives the public policy team aims to meet in 2020.
To that end, MCN is concerned about the way the law is written for the upcoming presidential primary for two reasons.
- First, with no rules around how the data on the voter party preference lists is to be protected, there is serious concern about the lists becoming public. Our 501(c)(3) members are required by law to remain nonpartisan, and the idea that the voting record of their leadership or their staff could be used to hassle or discredit them is having a chilling effect on primary participation.
- Our second concern is more global. We believe the current law WILL disenfranchise a large part of our electorate. We are hearing from our members that some people are choosing to not vote in the primary. In addition to our nonprofit leaders, nonpartisan staff, nonpartisan elected officials, teachers, doctors, and even just people who choose not to share their political views with their friends and neighbors are at risk of staying away from the polling place on March 3. If voters have to weigh the risks versus rewards of voting in this or future primaries, we are going to see a decline in our nation-leading election turnout.
During her testimony, Ellis urged the committee to implement two steps that are included in the bill HF3068:
- First would be to either decline to collect the data in the first place, or if it is deemed necessary, protect it with appropriate safeguards to ensure it can only be used for intended purposed. With that must come penalties for violation of the privacy of the state’s voters.
- Second, she urged members of the committee to provide voters with the opportunity to opt out of having their information included on any database as a result of their decision to vote.
What’s next for the bill and how you can get involved
Secretary of State Steve Simon says the deadline isn’t March 3 to protect primary voter privacy in 2020. Rather, it is 10 weeks after the primary, when the Secretary of State’s Office is required to turn over voter lists to the state parties.
In that time, you can use your voice at the capitol to make sure voter data is protected.
What you need to know:
- The bill passed another committee on Tuesday, February, 2020, and has one more committee stop before it can be heard on the House floor.
- Rep. Dehn’s bill has a partner bill in the senate with bipartisan support.
- Rep. Peggy Scott also has a bill that would eliminate the collection of data at the polling place altogether. No hearing has been scheduled for this bill.
How you can be involved:
- Call or email your legislator to let them know you are concerned about voter data privacy, especially if you work for a nonprofit.
- Check back for updates: as this bill moves through the House and Senate, we will be posting updates here and on our social channels.
- Subscribe to the Nonprofit Advocate for up-to-date calls to action.
February 21, 2020 -- Update:
Senator Mary Kiffmeyer, Chair State Government Finance and Policy and Elections, introduced a new bill. MCN is reviewing the bill and hopes there will be a hearing in the senate soon.