Could be worse. When lawmakers decided a couple of years ago that Minnesota should join Super Tuesday and have a presidential primary instead of considering candidates during the chaos of classrooms-overflowing caucuses, the move was to include making public the names of all the voters who voted in each party’s primary.
Under that scenario, “Anyone, your nosy neighbor, anyone would have been able to get a hold of (the names) and see … all the people who voted for a Democratic candidate or a Republican,” as Secretary of State Steve Simon explained in an interview this winter with the News Tribune Editorial Board. “Not who you voted for, but which party’s ballot you chose was going to be a public record.”
Which would have been bad enough. There are plenty of voters whose professions or other factors in their lives demand political anonymity or neutrality. Consider clergy, journalists, and others.
Facing well-placed, appropriate, and not at all unsurprising backlash, lawmakers last session took action to do more to protect privacy in the March 3 presidential primary, Minnesota’s first presidential primary since the 1950s, according to Simon.
But lawmakers didn’t do enough.
Voters’ party preferences will still be recorded and made into lists. No, the lists no longer will be made public, but they will be handed over to all four of Minnesota’s major parties: the DFL, GOP, and the two pro-marijuana parties. Provisions are in place to prevent the parties from then posting the lists or otherwise releasing them for all the world to see.
But the provisions aren’t strong enough to satisfy many, including Simon. Minnesota voters can be quite concerned about the lists being leaked, violating voters’ expectations of privacy. Why would any of the parties even need the others’ lists of primary participants? And, honestly, how protective of the others’ lists will each party be?
“That still troubles me,” Simon said. “I think to me that seems like a backdoor party-registration system, and we’ve never had that since statehood.”
There’s a better way. Instead of four different ballots used on the day of the presidential primary, one for each of the participating parties, Minnesota could go with a single ballot — like it does for other primaries. Voters would then fill out only the party section of their choosing, leaving the other parties’ sections blank.
With one ballot instead of four, voters wouldn’t have to say out loud at their polling place which party they want to affiliate with, a declaration that easily could be overheard by election judges, fellow voters, and others. The single ballot would allow voters to remain independent rather than partisan, if they want. Either way, they could remain anonymous and neutral.
“Nobody would ever know which side of the line (a voter falls). It’s totally physically untraceable,” Simon said. “There’s no possible way to connect it to you. That’s what I favor.”
The Minnesota DFL does not, for the specific reason that the state parties are required by their nationals to record and report their primary participants. Databases of the like-minded are kept that can be tapped to rally support for party causes and candidates. Caucus sign-in sheets had sufficed for years but are now gone.
The primary shouldn’t be thought of as a traditional election, Minnesota DFL Chairman Ken Martin said in an interview last week with the News Tribune Opinion page.
(The Minnesota GOP didn’t respond to an email requesting an interview for this editorial.)
“The primary is solely a function of the parties’ nominating process, and, as such, we have to comply with our national party rules,” Martin said. That doesn’t mean he likes that all of Minnesota’s political parties are to receive the others’ primary-participant lists.
“That is something I adamantly oppose,” Martin said. “In the hands of the wrong people, it could be used for inappropriate reasons. It also could have a chilling effect (on voter participation).”
Any chilling is counter to the whole point of Minnesota’s caucus-to-primary shift this presidential election year. The idea was to give as many eligible voters as possible the opportunity to help pick our presidential finalists.
No voter should have to forfeit privacy to participate. It’s up to the Legislature to go far enough to fix that.