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County clerks being “inundated” with voting-related FOIA requests here

Thursday, Sep 28, 2023 - Posted by Rich Miller

* Votebeat

In North Carolina, Local Labs wanted obscure voter records that would take weeks, or even months, to prepare. In Georgia, the company requested a copy of every envelope voters used to mail in their ballots. And in dozens of counties across the U.S., Local Labs asked for the address of every midterm voter.

Local election offices across the country are struggling to manage a sharp rise in the number of public records requests, and extensive requests coming from Local Labs in at least five states have stymied election officials, according to a Votebeat review of hundreds of records requests, as well as interviews. The requests are broad and unclear, and the purpose for obtaining the records is often not fully explained, leaving officials wondering in some cases whether they can legally release the records.

Local Labs is known for a massive network of websites that rely mainly on aggregation and automation, blasting out conservative-leaning hyper-local news under names such as the Old North News, in North Carolina, and Peach Tree Times, in Georgia.

Local Labs CEO Brian Timpone told Votebeat the company is using records requests in an attempt to expose election fraud that he is sure exists. The company is sometimes getting paid by GOP-backed clients to do so, Timpone acknowledged, characterizing the work simultaneously as both political research and journalism.

Ugh.

* I reached out to Matt Dietrich at the Illinois State Board of Elections to ask if this was happening here as well…

Illinois election authorities have received many if not all of the same records requests named in that article.

These kinds of requests and others – along with the more general theme of combating election disinformation — were the impetus behind a series of press conferences many central Illinois county clerks and election officials held on Tuesday and Wednesday. John Ackerman, clerk of Tazewell County, organized this and would be a good person to contact if you want some detail on the issue of these kinds of FOIA requests causing work flow problems for local election authorities:

* I wasn’t able to reach Ackerman (I’ll let you know if he calls me back), but a Capitol News Illinois story on the press conferences didn’t mention the FOIA issue. Neither did WCIA, WEEK and the Pantagraph.

So, I watched the press conference online.

* Ackerman told reporters that clerks were being “inundated” with FOIAs (although he said they have tapered off somewhat lately). “It’s the exact same message from the exact same person,” Ackerman said, without identifying the person. Clerks are being asked for “items we don’t have here in Illinois. They’re asking for data and for log books that don’t exist because they’ve gotten the information from out of state sources rather than sources within the state.”

“I do feel sorry for some of my smaller counties,” Ackerman said. “I have staff that can help get that stuff prepared.” Many of the smaller counties, he said, only have one or two employees handling the inquiries. “That’s really taking a huge amount of their time to answer the same amount of questions as a larger county.”

…Adding… I was able to connect with Clerk Ackerman, who told me he hasn’t received any FOIA requests that he knows of from Timpone’s Local Labs. Most all of the FOIA requests were anonymous, he said, so he couldn’t rule it out. His office did receive a request for early voting envelopes, which was denied for being overly broad.

       

16 Comments
  1. - DuPage Saint - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:12 pm:

    If they are asking for things that may not be allowed or are questionable I would think it would be proper to deny the request or ask for clarification. And since this seems to be a commercial request can’t they be charged for it?


  2. - The Real Captain - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:13 pm:

    I attended one of the press conferences earlier this week. My own clerk referred to both parties being equally negligent in election disinformation … but overall the questions and discussions were positive and the local press (other than the local Election denier/ January 6th bus sponsor radio station) asked good questions and were given good answers by all involved.


  3. - Homebody - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:17 pm:

    I have been a FOIA officer before, and am friends with multiple current and past FOIA officers. FOIA is a great tool, and having government records be accessible to the public is generally a good thing.

    However…

    In practice most government records are not stored in convenient and easily accessible, exportable formats. Further, there is a mixture of confidential and non-confidential information in many of these records, particularly when it comes to agencies that have access to a lot of personal information about the general public, or any agency that licenses individuals. This makes compliance with record requests very burdensome for many small agencies if multiple people try to inundate them with requests (even if for a good reason).

    Lastly though, I think a lot of people just never realize how much information about them is out there and publicly accessible either in government databases, or private databases which are sold off to companies like Lexis et al. People freak out about being doxed without realizing how much you can figure out about someone just with Google.

    I don’t know what the solution is, since most enforcement mechanisms related to FOIA are nearly as burdensome for everyone involved as the FOIA process itself. The PAC office is glacially slow, and lawsuits are even slower (and more costly) for all parties.


  4. - Donnie Elgin - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:18 pm:

    “Clerks are being asked for “items we don’t have here in Illinois. They’re asking for data and for log books that don’t exist because they’ve gotten the information from out-of-state sources rather than sources within the state.”

    If that’s the case the FOIA officer would spend almost no time on these - offer a simple three-word answer:

    “No responsive records”


  5. - TheInvisibleMan - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:18 pm:

    “Many of the smaller counties”

    I’m trying to muster some sympathy.

    Nope.

    A not insignificant number of those same small county officials were actively helping spread that disinformation in the first place.

    Guess they will have to hire more staff, or pay overtime. County taxes can just be raised to pay for what they have created.


  6. - Homebody - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:21 pm:

    @ DuPage Saint: == And since this seems to be a commercial request can’t they be charged for it? ==

    FOIA defines commercial purpose specifically:

    (c-10) “Commercial purpose” means the use of any part of a public record or records, or information derived from public records, in any form for sale, resale, or solicitation or advertisement for sales or services.

    Doubtful it covers political uses.


  7. - Jibba - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:21 pm:

    ===The requests are broad and unclear===

    And in the article I read it said the requesting party did not respond to requests for clarification. This is a reason to deny, yes?


  8. - OneMan - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:24 pm:

    Along those same lines, it is interesting to see what FOIAs get filed with your local school district and by whom.

    Ours just had a request asking for all of the certified school librarians’ names and e-mail addresses.


  9. - Donnie Elgin - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:29 pm:

    “Along those same lines, it is interesting to see what FOIAs get filed with your local school district and by whom”

    A few public bodies post all FOIA/replies. The Unions keep FOIA officers quite busy as well. Here is one…

    “Under the Freedom of Information Act I’m requesting the invoices, names and contact information of contractors and/or sub-contractors that have been awarded and/or assigned work to be performed at any location owned, rented or leased by your taxing body over the past 3 years,
    which include the following scope.
    HVAC (heating, air conditioning, ventilation)
    Exhaust systems
    HVAC maintenance work and/or maintenance agreements
    Architectural metals, used for weatherproofing and/or ornamental purposes
    New installation and/or replacement of lockers
    Kitchen Renovations”


  10. - Oswego Willy - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:32 pm:

    It’s one thing to request information, it’s another being that the request is to burn down the system not the securing any information.

    Now, having typed all that… keep this in mind;

    ===Local Labs CEO Brian Timpone told Votebeat the company is using records requests in an attempt to expose election fraud that he is sure exists.===

    … it’s also about the grifting connected to “they can’t find it, it’s gotta be fraud, here’s my proof… make checks payable…”… and that email is sent to the Uihlein types that can’t help be be marks for a Timpone.

    1) “Burn it down”.
    2) Get the cash.
    3) Repeat to another county.

    Timpone is dangerous to our democracy. It’s a feature… and being dangerous doesn’t need Timpone to succeed, just dangerous enough to keep checks cashing.


  11. - OneMan - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 2:58 pm:

    When I used to observe elections at our local election authority, which no longer exists, I still can remember the request for a copy of all of the machine ‘tapes’ (the strips of paper that were printed at the end of the night from each machine from a political party as we were doing the tally for the first election after we switched from punchcards.

    This delusion on shenanigans at election authorities is quite something, I mean, they really need to get a better hobby or something. It’s like looking for a bigfoot or something at this point man.

    I mean have they met people involved in politics? These are the folks you think are involved in a grand criminal conspiracy? That some local party person is willing to risk going to jail for years to influence an election via fraud?

    Then again the inability of some people to understand how someone can see the world and politics differently is so strong I suspect the only logical explanation they can come up with is fraud.


  12. - Pundent - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 3:05 pm:

    Nice to see that Bost can be so easily manipulated to trade real threats for imaginary ones.


  13. - Stuck in Celliniland - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 3:14 pm:

    =but a Capitol News Illinois story on the press conferences didn’t mention the FOIA issue. Neither did WCIA, WEEK and the Pantagraph.=

    Meanwhile, it appears that the Journal Star and their Gatehouse cronies didn’t even bother to report the press conference. Powerball numbers, Emo’s Dairy Mart, and Journey coming to Peoria were apparently more newsworthy to the JS instead of potential election tampering.


  14. - Give Us Barabbas - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 4:27 pm:

    Do they want this stuff to use in creating mailing lists? Because you can already generate mailing lists from the registration book. Or is it just to deliberately clog up the election offices to punish them?


  15. - Bruce( no not him) - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 4:43 pm:

    But, how am I supposed to prove the election was rigged, if you wont provide me the proof? /S


  16. - JS Mill - Thursday, Sep 28, 23 @ 6:34 pm:

    FOIA is one of the most abused and misunderstood laws we have in Illinois.

    People often think it is a Q&A device and it is not. It only requires records that exist in their current format. Like the request made for librarian info to schools, they requested a specific format and list be created. We don’t have to do that. Local Labs is a business and not journalism per our attorney, so they have to pay if they want something from us.

    FOIA needs to be changed to stop it from being abused and used as a tool for harrassment.


Sorry, comments for this post are now closed.


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