Guest Opinion: We shouldn’t have to give up privacy to vote in a primary
In 1960, my dad let me follow him into the voting booth at a church in southwest Minneapolis. John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon were at the top of the ballot but I wasn’t tall enough to see any of the candidate names. My strongest memory of that polling booth was that, before voting, when my dad pulled a particular lever, a small curtain encircled us and he was left alone to cast his votes. Well, as alone as one can be with a nosy 6-year-old son at your side.
When it came to current events he was probably the most well-read man I ever knew, but for the most part, Dad kept his political opinions to himself. He was raised in an era when when religion and politics were not brought up in polite company. He never displayed political lawn signs or partisan bumper stickers.
Although politics is more likely to seep into everyday conversation these days it’s still a touchy subject for many. There are some folks with whom I enjoy talking about politics. Other folks, well, I would rather eat lutefisk for a week than get embroiled with them in a political discussion.
Which brings us to Minnesota’s presidential primary, the information that party bosses will garner from that taxpayer-paid election and the total lack of restrictions on what they can do with that information. Those who want to vote in the presidential primary will be asked to sign a statement that they agree with the general principles of the party in whose primary they cast a ballot. The political parties will receive that person’s name and address and a listing of the party primary in which they voted. That information can be used pretty in much anyway the parties see fit.
For more than 36 years I worked in the Brainerd Dispatch newsroom, covering politics and other controversial topics. Readers who cared about my personal opinions could probably discern them from my columns and from editorials I wrote that were the consensus of the Dispatch editorial board. Outside of my immediate family, I never shared my choice for president with anyone. If someone asked me who I voted for I told them I didn’t talk about that. I didn’t want to be pigeon-holed. Looking back I can remember casting votes for presidential candidates in three different parties over the years.
Had my votes been part of the public record it would have made me uncomfortable and would have made my job more difficult.
Newspaper reporters and even newspaper employees in other departments will now have to weigh whether they want political parties to know which party they generally align themselves with if they vote in the presidential party.
From my understanding of the state legislation that brought about the presidential primary there's nothing to prevent political parties from disseminating information on the political preferences of Minnesota voters.
Importantly, it’s not just newspaper employees who could be affected by this lack of control. The voting preferences of county election officials, pastors, library board members, judges and small business owners would also be provided to party officials.
Granted, the main reason the parties want your name and address is for political solicitations and campaign strategies. Still, it galls me that taxpayer money will be used to glean this valuable information on behalf of the politicians and no restrictions are placed on the use of that information. If the parties want to know how I vote let them commission their own survey. Let them come and ask me. I’ll give them a response, but it might not be the information they’re looking to obtain.
Although early voting has already begun for the presidential primary it’s not too late to revise the law. No information has been shared with the parties up to this point. At a minimum, there should be a penalty for party officials who share individual voters’ party preferences with public or social media. People who value the secret ballot and the protection of their own private information should contact their state representative and state senator and urge them to vote in favor of some form of restrictions on the parties’ use of our information.
Most voters are interested in electoral politics but aren’t active in party politics. A primary is a good testing ground for candidates and is much more representative of the November electorate than a caucus. But we shouldn’t have to give up our privacy to participate in a primary. The party bosses shouldn’t have unrestricted access to our party preferences in a given election. It’s none of their business.
Mike O’Rourke is a retired newspaper journalist with the Brainerd Dispatch and a Brainerd resident.