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Public granted access to information in voter records

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  1. Freedom of Information

    NMU         MASSACHUSETTS         Freedom of Information         Nov 5, 2001    

Public granted access to information in voter records

  • The state attorney general declared that the state open records law requires the full disclosure of information in voter records, other than names and addresses made confidential by law.

Information compiled in the voter records of Massachusetts should be available to the general public and state political committees alike, according to an opinion released by state Attorney General Tom Reilly in mid-October.

But the state law on voter records prohibits the release of names and addresses, Reilly said in the Oct. 11 opinion.

This means that full disclosure of the information contained in Massachusetts voter records is permissible for state candidate committees and state ballot question committees, but the general public is restricted from obtaining names and addresses.

According to the October opinion, the public may see “other information” in the records, including effective dates of voter registration, lists of active and inactive voters, their party enrollment, the number of inactive voters sent confirmation mailings and the number of responses garnered by those mailing.

“I conclude that your office is obligated to provide all persons (including statewide committees) with access, upon request, to voter information contained in the Central Registry under public records law, and also to provide statewide committees with access to voters’ names and addresses under Section 47C,” Reilly said in the opinion, addressed to Secretary of State William Galvin.

Reilly wrote the opinion following a request from Galvin’s office for clarification about Massachusetts’ open records laws.

Section 47C is the state statute that required state officials to create and maintain the Central Voter Registry, a computer database including names, addresses and effective dates of registration for voters, Reilly wrote in the opinion.

“The purpose of the Central Registry is to maintain a statewide list of all registered voters in the Commonwealth,” Reilly wrote.

The statute, however, declares that names and addresses in the registry are not considered public record.

For those who would like increased access to government records, the inability to obtain voter names is frustrating.

“This is a prime bit of absurdity,” said Jack Authelet, retired chairman of a freedom of information advocacy group in Massachusetts.

“The public is simply, or profoundly, the public, with no qualifications,” he said. “I always felt we had better, more workable laws in Massachusetts than most other states, but you see that changing. You can’t give this information to a privileged group of political groupies.”

(Attorney General Memorandum Re: Central Voter Registry; 10/11/01) GR

© 2001 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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