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Payday lenders get voters’ birth dates; voter safety in Lt. Governor's hands

Key Points:

  • Payday lenders, banks, insurance companies, health care providers, political parties, candidates and their supporters will continue to have access to the voter list containing the names, addresses and birth dates of 1.5 million Utah citizens. Others will not have access to birth dates.
  • Those obtaining the birth dates of Utah voters will face criminal penalties and fines for failure to properly use and protect the birth dates.
  • Voters will now be advised that their information may be sold and will be given the opportunity to protect their entire records if they meet certain criteria as determined by statute and by the Lt. Governor’s office.

Under SB36S05 (Mayne) which the legislature passed on the last night of the session, payday lenders will continue to be able to purchase the full names, addresses, and full birth dates of Utah’s 1.5 million registered voters.

As organizations subject to the jurisdiction of the Utah Department of Financial Institutions, payday lenders (check cashing and deferred deposit lenders) are authorized by to use the Utah voter list to “verify the accuracy of personal information submitted by an individual or to confirm the identity of a person in order to prevent fraud, waste, or abuse.”

SB36S05 replaced HB302S01 (Edwards) which had earlier passed the Utah House of Representatives by a vote of 71-2. That bill made the birth dates of all registered voters private records and prohibited the state from selling them to individuals, the media and businesses, including payday lenders.

HB302S01 also allowed voters whose lives or safety would be jeopardized by the release of their personal identifying information to make their entire voter records private by simply completing a document or checking a box on a voter registration form.

However, within hours of agreeing to be the Senate sponsor of HB302S01, Senator John Valentine came under intense pressure from senior Republican Party officials, including Party chair and payday lender James Evans.

Evans became a permanent fixture in the restricted areas of the Senate and hallways of the capitol where he worked to ensure that the birth date of every registered voter be made public without restriction and to limit the ability of voters to make their records private except under the most restrictive conditions possible.

Bowing to the pressure, Valentine initially said that he could not be the Senate sponsor of Edward’s HB302S01 because he had lost his “passion” for the bill.

However, he quickly changed his mind and said that he would be the Senate sponsor but that HB302S01 would have to be amended in order for the Senate to pass it. The key Senate demand was that the Republican Party, financial institutions, health care providers, and insurance companies would continue to have complete access to the entire voter list including the full names, addresses and birth dates of 1.5 million Utahns.

At Valentine’s insistence, Edwards replaced HB302S01 with HB302S02 in a Senate committee hearing. The substitute bill allowed political party and business interests to access the voter list but denied them voters’ birth dates. This compromise was summarily rejected by business interests but the bill passed the committee on a 4-1 vote.

Valentine was noticeably absent from the hearing in spite of the fact that he had arranged for the bill to be heard by the Business and Labor Committee that he sits on.

In addition to granting business access to the voter list, the substituted bill (HB302S02) included many of the other components of SB36 as originally passed by the Senate earlier in the session. However, the Edwards’ bill gave voters much greater protection than the ineffective SB36 did.

Following the committee hearing, HB302S02 languished in the Senate.

Finally, in response to a “blue note” dated March 12, 2014, asking if HB302S02 was dead, Valentine wrote: “Yes, after the [Senate] caucus yesterday.”

The caucus referred to was the noon meeting of all Republican Senators. James Evans, Republican Party Chair and payday lender, had been allowed to put forth his case to all Republican Senators during a closed session of the caucus after members of the press and public had been forced to leave the room. Although Davis County Attorney Troy Rawlings was ready to address the caucus in support of HB302S02, neither he nor anyone else was allowed to do so.

So, the Senate rejected SB302S02 that included a blanket prohibition against releasing any voter’s birth date and that gave voters’ control over their personal information after hearing only one side of the story.

The Senate, under the leadership of Valentine, then replaced HB302S02 with a bill (SB36S05) that allows the full voter record (full name, address, phone number, birth date, party affiliation, voting history, etc.) to go to a wide range of businesses, including payday lenders, banks, health care providers, insurance companies as well as to political parties, candidates, campaign volunteers, consultants, pollsters and strategists. SB36S05 also limits voters’ ability to protect their voter registration records.

However, as loophole ridden as SB36S05 is, thanks to the tenacity of Representative Becky Edwards’ and a handful of citizens, it is still stronger than the current law and it is exponentially better than the “gorilla dust” version of SB36 that the Senate originally passed .

SB36S05 makes a voter’s birth date a protected record just as Edward’s bill did. However, it then authorizes the release of birth dates to political parties and their camp followers plus it allows a wide range of businesses to obtain voters’ birth dates.

Edwards ensured that voters are made aware that their identifying information will be made public at the time they register to vote and insisted that both criminal penalties and fines were included in SB36S05 just as they were in HB302S02.

Edwards’ also made certain that SB36S05 allows voters’ to make their entire records private although not as easily or as fully as in her bill. James Evans succeeded in making it harder for Utah voters to protect their entire record by requiring them to produce a protective order, a police report or other acceptable proof as determined by the Utah State Elections Office through its rule making authority.

The onus now shifts to Lt. Governor Spencer Cox and the Herbert administration to ensure that the new law effectively protects voters.

The Elections Office, under the Lt. Governor, is responsible for establishing the rules that will allow voters to prevent their entire voter records from being made public. Given the fact that voters’ information is so widely distributed under the Valentine agreement, it is imperative that the rules allow all voters to protect their personal identifying information based on their own risk analysis since only they can know the risks that they face.

The entire Herbert administration will also have to aggressively monitor the use of lists with voters’ birth dates that are sold and be ready to bring both criminal charges and heavy fines against anyone misusing them. This includes payday lenders, the Huntsman Cancer Institute, LexisNexis, banks, insurance companies, political parties, pollsters, candidates, and campaign workers who improperly use, handle, store and/or dispose of voter lists containing voters’ birth dates.

If the Herbert Administration takes the side of the voters, then registered voters will have at least some assurance that their voter records will be protected and those not registered to vote, may be less reluctant to sign up.

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