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Court upholds law mandating $114,000 fee for voter records

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Court upholds law mandating $114,000 fee for voter records03/11/96 ARIZONA--An appeals court in Phoenix in late February upheld the constitutionality…

Court upholds law mandating $114,000 fee for voter records

03/11/96

ARIZONA–An appeals court in Phoenix in late February upheld the constitutionality of a state law allowing a county recorder’s office to charge a newspaper $114,000 for a voter registration list.

Under the law, Maricopa County may provide the same list to political organizations for free, the appeals court held.

The challenge stemmed from a July 1992 request by Judy Nichols, a reporter for The Arizona Republic, for a magnetic tape copy of the Maricopa County voter registration list. The county agreed to provide the list but only after assessing a fee of ten cents for each voter’s name, in accordance with Arizona law. The list consisted of 1,140,000 names.

The newspaper’s attorney attempted to negotiate with the county over the price, offering to pay $20 per hour for the computer time needed to copy the tape, as well as any costs for personnel time. But the county refused that offer, saying the statute controlled the price.

Shortly after the refusal, the newspaper filed suit in Superior Court in Phoenix seeking access to the data at a reasonable cost. The trial court held that although that voter registration lists were public records, access was not undermined by the statutory fee.

The court of appeals affirmed the judgment of the lower court in late February, rejecting the newspaper’s argument that the law violated Arizona’s public records law and equal protection clause.

The court reasoned that the fee provision encouraged registration by protecting voters from unwanted intrusions into their privacy. The court agreed with the state that the $114,000 fee did not contravene availability and public access and was “necessary to compensate the recorder’s office for its labor.”

The court also rejected the publisher’s argument that the law constituted “special legislation” favoring political organizations, which are exempt from the fees. The court noted that the political organizations were open to anyone wishing to join them. (Phoenix Newspapers v. Maricopa County; Media Counsel: James Henderson)