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Lawsuit: South Carolina’s Refusal To Disclose Voter Roll Data Is Illegal

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Image CreditMikhail Nilov/Pexels

South Carolina’s refusal to forfeit its voter roll data violates federal law, a lawsuit filed Thursday alleges.

Brought by the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) in the U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, the suit contends that Howard Knapp, the executive director of the South Carolina Election Commission, is violating the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) by declining to turn over the state’s voter roll data to the organization. The NVRA’s public disclosure provision stipulates that “[e]ach State shall maintain for at least 2 years and shall make available for public inspection … all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters.”

The two exceptions to this provision are documents disclosing the identity of the government department through which any specific registrant was registered and those documenting that an individual declined to register to vote.

According to its lawsuit, PILF submitted a letter to Knapp on Feb. 5 requesting access to South Carolina’s voter registration list. The election commission’s general counsel declined the request in a response on Feb. 20, noting that PILF is an out-of-state organization and claiming South Carolina law only permits “qualified electors” living in the state to access such information.

PILF responded the following day, alleging that failure to forfeit the requested data constitutes a violation of the NVRA. The legal group additionally warned the commission it would sue to obtain the records if they were not disclosed within the next 20 days.

“The Defendant’s denial of the Foundation’s request for the Voter Roll violates the NVRA,” the lawsuit reads. “Any South Carolina statute, regulation, practice or policy that conflicts with the NVRA or poses obstacles to its objectives is preempted and superseded under the Supremacy Clause and the Elections Clause of the Constitution of the United States.”

PILF requested the court declare Knapp in violation of the NVRA and declare the NVRA’s disclosure provision supreme to South Carolina’s registered-voter requirement. The group additionally asked that Knapp be ordered to hand over the requested records and a permanent injunction be issued barring him from “denying requests to inspect similar voter registration lists and voting histories in the future.”

“It doesn’t matter if you are from Pelion or Portland, Bamberg or Boston, these government records are available to the public under federal law,” PILF President J. Christian Adams said in a statement. “Voter rolls are an important list maintenance document the public has a right to inspect.”

Other states where PILF has successfully sued to obtain voter roll data include Maine, Illinois, and Maryland.

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