Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon has 10 days to provide voter information to the Minnesota Voters Alliance (MVA), a Ramsey County judge ruled Friday in the year-old dispute over access to the state’s voter rolls.
Simon’s office immediately announced that he would file a motion to put the order on hold pending his appeal. “Secretary Simon will continue to use all available legal tools to protect the private information of Minnesota’s voters,” the statement said.
Andy Cilek, executive director of the MVA, called the decision “game changing.” He faulted Simon for turning a “blind eye to ineligible voting” and hiding the data that proves it.
In January 2017, the MVA formally asked Simon for access to an electronic copy of data in the statewide voter registration system, including voter identification number, name, address, phone number, year of birth, voting history, type of ballot (absentee or in person), voter status (active, inactive, deleted, challenger), reason for challenge and all other information.
In August 2017, Simon told the group it was entitled only to the name, address, year of birth, history, district and telephone number. He told the group the information about the type of ballot, status and challenges wasn’t public.
Judge Jennifer Frisch disagreed. In her opinion, she said the information sought by the MVA exists in the computerized statewide voter system that contains 19 separate fields of data on approximately 5.4 million individual voter records.
The MVA frequently challenges election laws and recently won in a U.S. Supreme Court case. In that case, Minnesota law barring people from wearing political clothing to the polls was struck down. While the group describes itself on a website as “a nonpartisan political organization,” its legal claims of widespread fraudulent voting align with similar assertions by Republican-leaning groups.
DFLers and supporters counter that the claims of fraud are a ruse aimed at intimidating voters and suppressing turnout. Simon is a DFLer.
In this matter, the secretary of state asserted he had discretion to choose which data to disclose. Frisch disagreed, saying nothing in the law says the voter information isn’t public. Furthermore, she noted that the information sought by MVA has “historically been distributed to the public and others.” She said county auditors “routinely produce the very same data” in response to formal requests.
In support of the court’s position, the judge also pointed to two advisory opinions previously issued by the state’s Information Policy Analysis Division. An opinion from 2012 confirmed that data on voter status is “presumptively public.”
MVA attorney Erick Kaardal said, “It is lamentable that citizen groups have had to pursue a long and expensive court battle to arrive at today’s ruling.”
In a news release, the MVA asserted that “tens of thousands of voters may have voted ineligibly in 2016.” However, there has been no evidence that occurred.
Frisch’s ruling focused on access to voter information, not the plausibility of the fraud claims.