Township can only charge ‘incremental costs’ for voter rolls
MICHIGAN–A Michigan state appeals court has upheld a lower ruling prohibiting a township from charging more than the “incremental cost” for duplicating voter registration rolls. Incremental costs are those directly incurred in providing copies.
The late May ruling by Judge Peter D. O’Connell in Lansing prohibits the Township of Clinton from charging a “per name” fee for the rolls meant to defray the township’s “capital expenditure in computerizing their maintenance of records.” The decision comes just months after an Arizona appeals court upheld a fee of $114,000 for similar voter rolls requested by the Arizona Republic.
Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting in Lansing sought the voter registration rolls under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act in January 1992. Although the incremental cost of the records was estimated at ninety dollars, the township assessed a fee of $640.
In a lawsuit filed by Grebner shortly after the fee assessment, the township argued that fees for voter registration rolls fell within an exception to the FOI Act and were instead governed by the Michigan Election Law, which allows local governments to recover the “costs” of requested records, not merely incremental costs.
The circuit court ruled in favor of Grebner, and the township appealed.
In affirming the lower decision, Judge O’Connell found that the Michigan Election Law did not specifically authorize the sale of the rolls and the FOI Act should control the issue of cost. Acknowledging that the township’s argument was not “without merit,” the judge opined that the town failed to demonstrate explicit language in the election law to override the fee provisions of the FOI Act. (Grebner v. Township of Clinton; Plaintiff’s Counsel: George Brookover, East Lansing)