Maine’s restrictions on the use of the voter roll were enacted to keep election watchdogs, like PILF, from analyzing and speaking about errors in the voter roll.
(Alexandria, VA) – February 5, 2024: The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) secured a landmark ruling for transparency and clean elections. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in PILF’s favor that under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) Maine’s voter roll is a public record. The Court’s opinion states:
“Whether voter registration rolls are accurate and current cannot be determined without inspecting the Voter File…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. For the above reasons, Maine’s Voter File is a record concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters and is thus subject to disclosure under Section 8.”
Additionally, the Court ruled that Maine’s fines and restrictions on the use of voter file data are illegal obstacles to achieving Congress’s intent for transparency and oversight under the NVRA. The Court’s opinion states:
“[T]he restrictions imposed by the Use Ban erect an impenetrable barrier for those seeking to use the Voter File to evaluate and enforce compliance with the NVRA nationwide.”
This ruling affirmed the District Court’s ruling from 2023.
“This is monumental victory for transparency in elections,” said PILF President J. Christian Adams. “The use restrictions would have prohibited basic voter roll research and limited PILF’s ability to share its findings with the public. PILF was prohibited from comparing Maine’s and New York’s voter rolls to spot duplicate registrations under the law. Other states should think twice before passing laws that restrict the public from accessing the voter file and speaking about any errors.”
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.
To moot PILF’s case, 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 research not pre-approved by the legislature. For example, the new law prohibited PILF from comparing Maine’s voter file to New York’s to identify duplicate registrations across state lines. 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 files for interstate research comparisons.
PILF amended its complaint to challenge the use restrictions and fines. This decision counters a growing trend: state efforts to dictate how concerned citizens may research voter files while acting under their NVRA inspection rights.
This case marks the third state that PILF has won access to the voter file under the NVRA. Previous victories were in Illinois and Maryland. Additionally, PILF has an ongoing lawsuit in Hawaii to obtain access to the voter file.
The attorneys for the Public Interest Legal Foundation in this case were Noel H. Johnson and Kaylan L. Phillips.
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