A federal appeals court has ruled that Maine must release its voter list to a conservative-backed group that’s conducting independent audits, concluding that state restrictions on distributing the list violated the National Voter Registration Act.
The Public Interest Legal Foundation sued Maine over its decision to prevent the wholesale release of voter registration lists without restrictions, such as prohibiting the information from being published online.
Organization spokesperson Lauren Bowman said the group sued to ensure its researchers can compare voter rolls in one state against those in another and that it had no intention of publishing the rolls. PILF President J. Christian Adams called the decision issued Friday by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston a “monumental victory for transparency in elections.”
Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows said she remains “deeply concerned” because voter information has been previously shared online, something state officials had argued could subject voters to harassment.
“Promises aren’t good enough,” said Bellows, a Democrat. “No Mainers should be afraid that by registering to vote that their information will be published online and that they’ll face threat, harassment and other harms.”
Baseless claims of widespread voter fraud are part of what’s driving efforts to obtain the rolls, leading to lawsuits over whether to hand over the data in several states, including New Mexico and Pennsylvania, in addition to Maine.
State election officials and privacy advocates have raised alarms about a push by several conservative groups to access state voter rolls, fearing that the lists could be used to intimidate voters or cancel registrations.
In New York, prosecutors sent a cease-and-desist order to the group New York Citizens Audit, demanding that it halt any “unlawful voter deception” and “intimidation efforts” after voters reported that so-called auditors were showing up on their doorsteps.
Maine historically provided voter registration lists to candidates and political parties before being sued in 2019 for failing to provide the rolls to the Public Interest Legal Foundation.
Rules governing voter lists vary by state. Nearly every state, including Maine, prohibits using the rolls for commercial purposes and several confine access to political candidates and parties for campaign purposes.
Maine still has some prohibitions, such as protecting the addresses of people who have received a protection-from-abuse order, Bellows said.
The state is still evaluating the impact of Friday’s court ruling.
“We will do everything in our power in accordance with the law and court decision to protect voter information from abuse,” Bellows said.