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SALT LAKE CITY — Two Utah lawmakers are championing an effort to loosen election privacy laws to allow candidates and political parties access to voter information, even if people opted to keep their information private.
Sen. Jake Anderegg and Rep. Craig Hall pitched the yet-to-be-filed-bill to House Democrats in their caucus meeting Tuesday, seeking support for legislation they know may face a steep hill to climb.
“It’s a work in progress,” Anderegg warned, before explaining why he’s sponsoring the bill, even after he sponsored a bill last year that lets candidates for public office keep their home addresses private.
The Lehi Republican, who supported a 2018 law allowing Utahns to opt to keep their voter registration records private, later said that law took a “step too far in the name of protection” after both Utah GOP Chairman Derek Brown and Utah Democratic Party Chairman Jeff Merchant warned the law has resulted in many newly registered Utah voters choosing to shield their registration data, complicating efforts of candidates and political parties seeking to reach potential voters.
“It’s causing some unintended consequences,” Anderegg said. “If we don’t know who they are, how are we supposed to reach out to them? How are we supposed to inform them?”
Hall, R-West Valley City, said so far, nearly 14% of all Utah’s registered voters have opted to make their information private, and as a result, candidates and political parties “have no idea who they are” or what political party they belong to. That also creates problems at caucuses, when an affiliated voter wants to participate, but party officials can’t find their name to verify their registration status.
Anderegg said it’s creating a threat of an uninformed electorate if candidates can’t contact voters and educate them about issues in their communities.
“If within one year, 14% of registered voters are all of a sudden dark, we don’t know who they are,” Anderegg said. “They just drop off the map ... our process will be fundamentally changed.”
The longer the law stays in effect as is, it’s likely that percentage of voters will continue to grow, party leaders have warned.
“So we’re wondering how to fix this issue,” Hall said.
Rep. Patrice Arent, D-Millcreek, asked if the new law is disproportionately affecting young voters, as those likely make up the bulk of newly registered voters. Hall said they didn’t have the data to back up that claim, but it’s likely accurate.
Hall stressed that this bill wouldn’t allow anyone to access voter information — only political candidates and parties. Plus, state law already prohibits voter information from being sold for commercial reasons.
“If what we are proposing eventually goes into effect, anybody off the street cannot get the private voter records,” Hall said. “They have to be a candidate. They have to be a political party.”
Anderegg said the law will also include exemptions for people who qualify, including anyone who is in danger of domestic violence, people in law enforcement or the military, elected officials and “prominent people” needing to keep their addresses private for security reasons.
“How we carve out these exemptions still need to be figured out,” Anderegg noted.
Hall and Anderegg welcomed feedback and suggestions from House Democrats, saying the bill is still being drafted. They said they’ve already been working with the lieutenant governor’s office, welcoming “any good ideas” to make the legislation acceptable to lawmakers.