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Federal court strikes down restriction on voter records

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  1. Freedom of Information
Federal court strikes down restriction on voter records 01/27/97 HAWAII--A state cannot deny the public and press access to voter…

Federal court strikes down restriction on voter records

01/27/97

HAWAII–A state cannot deny the public and press access to voter registration records if it allows political parties and others access to the same records, a federal District Court in Honolulu ruled in mid-December. The court said that the statute governing the dissemination of voter registration information was discriminatory and unconstitutional because there is no rational basis for the denial of access.

The public and press had complete access to voter registration records until a 1990 law made it illegal for others “to use, print, publish, or distribute in any manner whatsoever not provided by law” any information provided by voter registration records. However, an exception allowed candidates, political parties, political action committees, data processing companies and government agencies to “rent” registration records for election or government purposes.

In August 1996, a number of media organizations filed suit in federal court to restore public access to the voter registration records, after a July 1996 request by Hilo Hawaii Tribune-Herald reporter Kevin Dayton was denied under the law. The plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Donrey Media (the parent company of the Hawaii Tribune-Herald and West Hawaii Today) along with The Honolulu Advertiser, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, KHON-TV and the Society of Professional Journalists, claimed that the statute as amended violated the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution because it unreasonably granted access to some individuals and organizations while excluding others including the media.

In striking down the access restrictions, the court held that the statute “is an intolerable infringement upon the public’s right to know” and denies access to important information concerning the integrity of elections. (Donrey Media Group v. Ikeda; Media Counsel: Jeffrey Portnoy, Honolulu)