(Alexandria, VA) – July 26, 2023: The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) filed an amicus curiae brief supporting the Public Interest Legal Foundation’s (PILF) right to obtain voter rolls in Maine. PILF’s lawsuit against Maine Secretary of State, Shenna Bellows, seeks voter rolls and the right to analyze and speak about any errors and violations of federal law. The DOJ’s filing adopts PILF’s position that voter rolls are public records and states may not penalize citizens for identifying and communicating about failures by election officials. The case was brought under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA).
In March, the United States District Court ruled in PILF’s favor that the NVRA prohibits fines and certain use restrictions on voter roll data. Maine appealed this ruling to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. The DOJ’s brief asks the court to affirm the lower court’s ruling.
“The Department of Justice correctly supported PILF’s legal position and election transparency,” said PILF President, J. Christian Adams. “The public has a right to inspect election records. Maine’s use restrictions not only infringe on First Amendment rights to speak but also makes it impossible to hold Maine and other election officials accountable for doing a bad job.”
The attorneys for the Public Interest Legal Foundation in this case are Noel H. Johnson and Kaylan L. Phillips.
In October 2019, PILF requested a copy of Maine’s statewide voter file and voting histories. The Secretary of State’s office notified PILF that the request was denied, citing state law that limited access to preferred entities like political parties. The Foundation filed a lawsuit in February 2020.
While the case was ongoing, Maine amended its law to allow access to the voter file—with a catch. The change prohibited PILF and others from using the file to perform any research not pre-approved by the legislature. For example, the new law prohibited PILF from comparing Maine’s roll to New York’s to evaluate the validity of duplicated records in that state. Anything other than “evaluating” Maine’s own compliance with voter list maintenance obligations would risk severe fines for unauthorized use.
During litigation, PILF also discovered the bill in question was drafted by Maine Secretary of State staffers, sympathetic legislators, and the top lobbyist for the state Democratic Party. Also involved in the drafting was the Electronic Privacy Information Center (EPIC), an organization that waged a legal campaign against the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity in 2017 to block access to states’ voter rolls for interstate research comparisons.
Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is the nation’s only public interest law firm dedicated wholly to election integrity. The Foundation exists to assist states and others to aid the cause of election integrity and fight against lawlessness in American elections. Drawing on numerous experts in the field, PILF seeks to protect the right to vote and preserve the Constitutional framework of American elections. PILF has brought lawsuits and won victories in Texas, Mississippi, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and across the United States.
For media inquiries, please reach out to Lbowman@publicinterestlegal.org