FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Oct. 14, 20219
CONTACT: Mark McCormick, Director of Strategic Communications, 913-490-4113, [email protected]
OVERLAND PARK, KS - A ruling this week that Secretary of State Scott Schwab did not violate the state’s open records law by deliberately disabling his own database, could set a troubling standard, said the Legal Director for the ACLU of Kansas.
“We are deeply concerned that the ruling seems to give license to government officials to hide access to public records whenever they don’t want to comply with KORA,” said Sharon Brett, the legal director. That is inconsistent with the entire purpose of KORA and sets a dangerous precedent that undermines our open records law.”
Said plaintiff Davis Hammet: “Secretary Schwab clearly does not want the public to access records about votes that are challenged and thrown out each election. He fought access to provisional ballot records through prior litigation and lost. He then pivoted to actively making it more difficult, time consuming, and expensive to access those records. This raises deep concerns about government accountability, transparency, and fair elections. I’m working with my attorneys to consider appropriate next steps in our fight to ensure all eligible votes are counted.
In her Wednesday, ruling, Shawnee County District Court Judge Teresa Watson said that Schwab had not violated the law when he ordered the removal of an election database function that produces a report indicating which provisional ballots were not counted.
The case involved a lawsuit filed by Davis Hammet, president of Topeka-based Loud Light, a nonprofit, voting rights organization focused on boosting voter turnout. Hammet and Loud Light sought the information so that they could notify provisional voters and help them “cure” the issues leading them to have to vote provisionally.
Elections officials give voters provisional ballots if that voter doesn’t appear to be registered, for an alleged signature mismatch, if they cannot present required identification or if they are attempting to vote at a polling place other than the one to which they have been assigned.
When Hammet and Loud Light requested a report regarding those who voted provisionally in the August 2020 primary, the Court initially ordered Schwab to comply, but immediately after producing the report, Schwab turned off his ability to produce that report going forward. Hammet argued that the intentional disabling of access to the report violated the Kansas Open Records Act (KORA).
The judge sided with Schwab, finding that eliminating the ability to produce the report does not violate the state law as written.
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About the ACLU of Kansas: The ACLU of Kansas is the statewide affiliate of the national American Civil Liberties Union. The ACLU of Kansas is dedicated to preserving and advancing the civil rights and legal freedoms guaranteed by the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights. For more information, visit our website at www.aclukansas.org.