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Without naming names, Rep. Becky Edwards told House members she knew which of them was born on Feb. 3, 1956, and May 26, 1971. She knew who lived at 111 W. 5600 South. She knew when everyone last voted and their party affiliation.
It was, she said, private information she obtained from an online list of Utah voter rolls. And she used that Tuesday to persuade lawmakers to pass by a 71-2 margin her HB302, to allow individual voters to opt to keep all that information private and unavailable even to political parties, scholarly researchers and journalists.
The Utah Media Coalition of newspapers and broadcasters has opposed the bill, calling it an overreaction to stories about how the website UTvoters.com put detailed personal information online after buying the voter registration database for $1,050 from the lieutenant governor's office.
Edwards, R-North Salt Lake, said Utah sold the personal information for its 1.5 million voters "at the cost of one-tenth of a cent per voter." She said she has heard from people who are refusing to register to vote because they do not want their data made public.
"The government should not require individuals to relinquish their right to privacy in order to vote," Edwards said. She added that it especially concerns victims of domestic violence, who worry abusers can use the information to track them.
Rep. Eric Hutchings, R-Kearns, said he is a victim of identify theft, though he did not blame it on voter rolls. He said he pushed a similar bill years ago, and political parties scolded him and killed the bill because it would make it tougher to identify voters for campaigning.
"We have to protect the people," he said.
News-media representatives argued in committee that the bill would make it more difficult for them to uncover voter fraud, including people who vote multiple times in different places or use the names of dead people. But Edwards said the lieutenant governor's office, with full access to information, would be able to police such fraud.
Sen. Karen Mayne, D-West Valley City, is pushing a related bill, SB36, that would ban selling voter list information, but provide exemptions for political parties, journalists and researchers. Edwards urged members to pass both and allow people to still keep their own information private if they choose.
Edward's bill also would keep private all birth dates, regardless of whether people opt to protect other information.
Rep. Dana Layton, R-Orem, said much of the personal information on voter rolls is available online through other sources. "But we the government should not be the source of that information."