Voters Have The Right To A Secret Ballot

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By Reed Anfinson
Swift County Monitor-News

Among the most fundamental of rights in our democracy is the right to a secret ballot. Minnesota’s current law upends that right. We have talked to a good number of people  who regularly vote in Minnesota’s elections who now say they won’t vote in the March 3 Presidential Nomination Primary.

Why won’t they vote? Because under state law, Minnesotans are required to identify the party in which they are voting and request either a Democratic Farmer Labor Party (DFL) or Republican ballot at their polling place. Who they vote for remains private, but their party preference goes to the state’s four major political parties: Republican Party of Minnesota, the DFL, the Grassroots-Legalize Cannabis Party, and Legal Marijuana Now Party.

Those parties can then use your voting preference in their political campaigns by targeting people for donations, mailings, and to seek their help. It also gives them demographic data to see where their support is strongest, what age groups support them most, and what average income is in the areas from which they are gaining or losing support.

While the information is intended for political party use, there is also the chance your preference could become public if released intentionally, or accidently, by the parties or organizations they work with. The possibility of the release of their voter preference will keep people who fear the consequences of it becoming public on their employment, social lives, or political careers from voting. People who are in positions where a perception of fairness, or non-party affiliation, such as clergy, professional government staff, reporters and others would be reluctant to vote if there is even a remote chance of their party preference becoming public.

Independent voters, who spurn being identified with either party, don’t appreciate being forced to affiliate with one or the other. Many citizens, rightly, object to the government collecting voter party information.

Last week, Minnesota DFL Secretary of State Steve Simon proposed a bill with authors in the state Senate and House that would “restrict sharing of party preference data only to a national party representative and only for the purpose of verifying participation in the Presidential Nomination Primary.”

It would also classify a voter’s party preference as private data. Those in the political parties receiving the preference data would have a set of rules for its use and there would be penalties for divulging, or disseminating, voter preference information. It would also create the right to opt-out of being included on a voter preference list.

For decades, Minnesotans have chosen their presidential favorites through the caucus system. However, in 2016, the state’s voters overwhelmed the caucuses. There was also support for the primary as a way to include more citizens in the process. Many people did not want to commit the hours required to participate in a caucus. A primary would increase Minnesota’s turnout and be more representative of the state’s population versus just reflecting a small, dedicated, minority, it was argued.

Pushing back against the movement to make party preference private, the Republican and Democratic parties told the state there would be consequences for not providing the data. If the state didn’t provide that party affiliation information, they said they would not validate the state’s primary results as binding on the party delegates each candidate wins.

Why might some want to know who is voting in a presidential preference primary? The information could reveal mischief in the electoral process.

Minnesota will have 15 Democrats to choose from on their primary ballot. The state’s Republican Party refused to allow any candidates other than President Trump on their ballot. That opens up the possibility for Republican voters to cast a ballot in the Democrat primary, corrupting the results.
Republican Rep. Peggy Scott, who represents the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities, has proposed a bill that would block voter information from being released and purge information that has been submitted by those who have already cast early ballots.

There is by no means universal support in the state Legislature for preventing party affiliation data from being required to vote in the presidential primary. State Sen. Mary Kiffmeyer, who chairs the Senate elections committee and is a former Minnesota secretary of state, is opposed to changing the law. “Voting in the primary has already started and we can’t change the rules now,” Kiffmeyer, of Big Lake, said.

DFL Party Chair Ken Martin also opposes changing the law. The data collected is essential to seating delegates at the national convention, and without it Minnesota’s delegates might not get seated, he says.

It may seem strange for a journalist to be supporting a law that keeps data private, but we see the current law suppressing voter turnout and violating the sanctity of the voter’s right to a secret ballot. The parties can figure out another way to gather the data they need for seating delegates – their convenience doesn’t negate voter rights, or the need for a more inclusive primary.

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