An important news item by in the Salt Lake Tribune reports on Utah State Sen. Karen Mayne’s attempt to stop publication of voter information. The reporter should have covered both sides of the issue, because the proposed legislation removes a crucial transparency component for Utah elections.
The article, titled “Bill aims to stop publication of voter information”,1 reports that:
– State Sen. Karen Mayne is sponsoring legislation that would limit access to the voter registration database, which can be purchased for $1,050 from the lieutenant governor’s office;
– Mayne’s legislation, SB36, would amend Utah’s election code to limit use of the voter registration list to “political, scholarly, journalistic, or governmental purposes.”
For election accountability, the public has the right to transparency in four areas:
1) Who can vote (voter list);
2) Who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list);
3) Counting of the vote;
4) Chain of custody.
For a government to have legitimacy, the choosing process must be verifiable by its people. Freedom of information is not “free” when limited to a small cabal of experts (best practices for right to know law require it to apply to “any person” rather than to any restricted set of persons); and the government certainly can’t be in charge of validating that its announced results are true. The essence of Freedom of Information law is that it must be construed broadly, and exemptions must be limited. There are better ways to achieve privacy; for example, by redacting a limited amount of information.
Freedom of Information best practices also address accessibility of information, generally requiring only actual cost. Statewide voter lists often cost only $25, or less, because the only real cost is to export text fields to a USB drive or DVD. Utah, apparently, charges over $1,000 for the list. The state of Alabama once attempted to charge over $20,000 for its list, but the pricing was struck down by the courts.2
A simple way to protect privacy would be to prohibit commercial use of the voter list. A further way to protect privacy, without sacrificing accountability, would be to include only birth year or each voter rather than full birthdate.
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Election transparency: Election transparency is the public ability to see and verify each essential step in elections, the essential steps being: (1) who can vote (voter list), (2) who did vote (poll list, or participating voter list), (3) counting of the vote, and (4) chain of custody. Reasons for transparency with sources: http://blackboxvoting.org/transparency/
All Black Box Voting stories related to election transparency: http://blackboxvoting.org/category/election-transparency/
Freedom of Information (FOI laws) – allow public access to data held by government, to be received freely or at minimal cost, barring standard exceptions. Also called open records or sunshine laws. Governments are bound by a duty to publish and promote openness. Wikipedia link: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Freedom_of_information_laws_by_country
- Pamela Manson: Bill aims to stop publication of voter information , The Salt Lake Tribune, 1/10/2014, http://www.sltrib.com/sltrib/politics/57379675-90/access-com-database-information.html.csp ↩
- http://blackboxvoting.org/reports/us-al-state-wants-28000-for-voter-list/ ↩