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Public Interest Legal Foundation sues Illinois over access to voter registration files

Tuesday, Jul 28, 2020

* Background

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) is an American conservative legal group based in Indianapolis, Indiana,which is known for suing states and local governments to purge voters from election rolls. The group has made false claims about the extent of voter fraud in the United States. The organization has published the information of eligible voters online, including Social Security numbers, falsely accusing them of being fraudulent voters.

The nonprofit was constituted in 2012 to “assist states and others” to fight “lawlessness” in American elections. They assert that “large numbers of ineligible aliens are registering to vote and casting ballots”, although lists that they have displayed of such supposed voters prove to actually include American natives who are eligible voters. PILF said their lists had been based on state government lists of declared “non-citizens” removed from local voter rolls. Some U.S. citizens were wrongfully purged in the process.

* Press release

The Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF) filed a lawsuit today against the Illinois State Board of Elections for failing to disclose voter registration records under federal law (Public Interest Legal Foundation v. Sandvoss et. al).

“Federal law requires transparency in election records,” PILF President and General Counsel J. Christian Adams said. “Just because someone isn’t engaging in partisan electioneering should not prevent them from ensuring that Illinois’ voter rolls are in order. Illinois’ records must be made available to the public, not just politicians.”

The complaint, filed July 27, explains the Foundation initially requested access to Illinois’ federally required statewide voter file and voting histories on October 16, 2019. On February 21 and after a failed inspection of records, the Foundation provided notice that litigation would commence if voter registration data was not provided as required under federal law.

The Foundation seeks relief under Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which requires officials to make voter list maintenance documents like the voter roll itself available for inspection to the general public. The law also offers a private right to file a lawsuit if denied.

Other federal courts which have confronted the issue have sided in favor of disclosure of public records.

The Foundation is pursuing litigation against Maine and Maryland for similar inspection rights violations. Delaware and Massachusetts opened access to their respective registration records pursuant to PILF’s federal inspection requests.

The Foundation accesses public voter registration database extracts to perform audits for deceased, duplicated, and otherwise outdated/corrupted records. Findings can result in federal list maintenance lawsuits to correct flagged registrant files. Lawsuits against Detroit and Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, recently wrapped along those lines.

The Foundation has also shared data via court briefs involving changes to mail ballot rules and procedures that have arisen due to the COVID-19 pandemic across 11 cases in California, Connecticut, Georgia, North Carolina, New Mexico, Tennessee, Texas, Virginia, and Wisconsin.

The new case was filed in the United States District Court for the Central District of Illinois. The case number is 3:20-cv-03190. The attorney for the Public Interest Legal Foundation is Sue Becker. Chicago-based Christine Svenson serves as local counsel.

* From the lawsuit

Section 10 ILCS 5/1A-25(4) restricts those allowed to receive a copy of the voter registration list to just two types of entities: political committees or government entities (“Restricted Access Law”). No other entity or individual is allowed to receive a copy of the voter registration list under the Restricted Access Law.

The Restricted Access Law contains just one exception, which is that a person may view the voter registration list at the office of the State Board of Elections […]

[Section 8 of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993] provides, in relevant part, “Each State shall maintain for at least 2 years and shall make available for public inspection and, where available, photocopying at a reasonable cost, 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”

So, it appears they have a decent case here. We’ll see. I’d hate to pay that copying bill, though.

* Also, you may remember attorney Christine Svenson

She is active in the local Republican party and has served as the Cook County Republican Party’s general counsel. […]

Svenson represented a client who sued Dan Rutherford, a 2014 candidate for the Republican gubernatorial nomination, for alleged sexual harassment. Rutherford accused Svenson and her client of fabricating the allegations to help his opponent, now Governor Bruce Rauner. Svenson denied any political motivations. She had previously received $3,500 from the Rauner campaign, but said it was for legal work reviewing a lease for Rauner.

The lawsuit was dismissed without prejudice.

- Posted by Rich Miller        

12 Comments »
  1. - @misterjayem - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 11:36 am:

    “So, it appears they have a decent case here.”

    Serious question: Who’s the “they” in this sentence, Rich?

    – MrJM


  2. - Ron - In Texas - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 11:39 am:

    Looks like that foundation has federal law on their side.


  3. - DuPage Saint - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 11:45 am:

    I read it that list should be available. I believe government bodies should follow law and resent it when it they try to avoid or delay. Does not matter if group seeking info is shady, your opponent or just a kook law applies for everyone


  4. - twowaystreet - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 11:51 am:

    I am guessing the state will argue that since you can view the list that they are open to public inspection. Not sure if that is a great argument.

    IL one of only a few states where non-political groups cannot get their hands on the list. Another example of IL political parties trying to hold too much control and now it is biting them in the rear. They should have opened it more, while putting the proper restrictions in place so groups like this cannot have free rein with voter’s information. This could go very bad for IL voters.


  5. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 11:56 am:

    === The organization has published the information of eligible voters online, including Social Security numbers, falsely accusing them of being fraudulent voters.===
    Slandering people, abetting identity thieves, how has PILF escaped bring sued into the Stone Age?


  6. - Cheryl44 - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 12:18 pm:

    I hope this ends up purging RWNJ voters.


  7. - Hadley - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 12:46 pm:

    It appears to be a false claim that they published social security numbers accusing them of being fraudulent voters. That is a false claim.


  8. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 2:15 pm:

    ===That is a false claim.===
    Nope.
    Apparently PILF removed them after being sued.


  9. - 40,000 ft - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 2:44 pm:

    Why would IL State Board of Elections deny this?

    Of course they are doing a fabulous job maintaining the voter rolls.

    It seems like it would be an easy decision with lots of good PR and political good will.

    (btw, who pays to defend the Board of Elections when they don’t want to comply with federal law?)


  10. - Demoralized - Tuesday, Jul 28, 20 @ 3:21 pm:

    Give them the list. Then, when they stomp their feet and make their wild claims about voter fraud and wanting to purge voter rolls, ignore them.

    This organization has one purpose and one purpose only and that is to ensure that as few people as possible can vote. They have no interest in democracy. Their only interest is in their hyper-partisan agenda.


  11. - PILF, seriously? - Wednesday, Jul 29, 20 @ 12:45 am:

    What an unfortunate acronym. I thought PILF meant “Person I’d Like to Fool around with” or some such.


  12. - Da Big Bad Wolf - Wednesday, Jul 29, 20 @ 9:55 am:

    PILF, as in pilfer these social security numbers please.


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