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Maine ordered to turn over voter rolls to conservative group

In the ruling, the appeals court wrote that determining whether Maine's voter registration rolls are accurate and current "cannot be determined" without public inspection of the files.

Published: February 6, 2024 11:00pm

(The Center Square) -

(The Center Square) — Maine is required to release its voter lists to a conservative group that's conducting audits of recent elections to probe for fraud following a new federal court ruling.

A U.S. Court of Appeals ruling in Boston sided with lawyers for the Virginia-based Public Interest Legal Foundation, which filed the lawsuit, who argued that federal law allows data to be available for public inspection.

The three-judge panel cited a provision of the National Voter Registration Act requiring public disclosure of "all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters."

"Such a provision evinces Congress's belief that public inspection, and thus public release, of voter file data is necessary to accomplish the objectives behind the NVRA," they wrote in the 40-page ruling.

Maine's Secretary of State Shenna Bellows, a Democrat who oversees the state's election system, had argued that the release of the data would compromise voters' privacy and personal information. She argued that if the voter information was posted online, they could be subjected to harassment.

“No Mainers should be afraid that by registering to vote that their information will be published online and that they’ll face threat, harassment and other harms," she said in a statement.

Bellows said the state is still evaluating the court's ruling but "will do everything in our power in accordance with the law and court decision to protect voter information from abuse."

In legal arguments, lawyers for the state noted that the group wants to use the voter information to probe baseless claims of widespread voter fraud in previous presidential elections.

In 2019, the group filed a lawsuit against Bellows challenging Maine's privacy law, which prevents voter registration data from being posted online. Lawyers for the group argued that Maine’s use and speech restrictions on the voter roll are "obstacles to achieving Congress’ intent for transparency and accountability."

In March, a U.S. District Court judge sided with the foundation in a ruling that the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 prohibited the state’s use restrictions on the voter roll. Bellows appealed the ruling.

In the ruling, the appeals court wrote that determining whether Maine's voter registration rolls are accurate and current "cannot be determined" without public inspection of the files.

"In other words, the evaluation of voter registration rolls would be impossible if the results of Maine’s voter list registration and maintenance activities were not subject to public disclosure," they wrote.

The foundation's president, J. Christian Adams, called the appeals court ruling a "monumental victory for transparency in elections."

"The use restrictions would have prohibited basic voter roll research and limited PILF’s ability to share its findings with the public," he said in a statement. "Other states should think twice before passing laws that restrict the public from accessing the voter file and speaking about any errors."

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