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Primary: Give voters privacy in voting booth

The secret ballot has long been the pillar of representative democracy, but that pillar is eroding in Minnesota with the upcoming presidential primary election.

Minnesota’s primary election law strikes a blow to voter privacy and must be challenged.

In the two years since Minnesota’s political parties and their leaders decided to go to a primary election for selecting presidential nominees, the law has been misinterpreted and misunderstood. And when it was finally understood, voters weren’t happy.

The law requires voters to pick either a Democratic or Republican ballot, and that information will be provided to each party. The parties will be able to see the party preference of the voter, although not the candidate the voter selected. But that’s no consolation.

The government has no business knowing how people vote in a democratic election.

Some voters want that information to be kept private for a variety of reasons. They may have sensitive jobs in government, for example, where they must work with both parties. Having their employer know their party preference could be detrimental. Local elected officials who are not required to affiliate with a party say they don’t like having to choose a party either.

The law allows the party leaders to do whatever they want with the list of names and party affiliations. One can imagine a list of voters going online for all the world to see. Forever. Objective journalists would certainly not want their choice seen by those who would be out to prove “enemy of the people” tags.

Party leaders say they will only use the information for help in recruiting volunteers or to know how their party appeal might be changing with different groups.

Those reasons don’t outweigh voter privacy.

Secretary of State Steve Simon has heard these concerns and he’s trying to get the laws changed. His proposal would allow the parties to provide the information only to their national organizations. Simon’s proposal would also allow voters to opt out of providing their information.

A Republican proposal by Rep. Peggy Scott is even better. It bans election officials from collecting the party information and calls for purging it from ballots already cast.

DFL party leader Ken Martin was willing to back Simon’s bill but Republican Party leader Jennifer Carnahan would not even meet to discuss it, according to a report in MinnPost. In a double whammy to voter privacy, GOP Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, chair of the Senate elections committee, also has vowed to reject any changes to the law.

We urge legislators to quickly pass legislation that protects voter privacy.

— The Free Press of Mankato

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