SPJ supports Project Vote in freedom of information case
For Immediate Release
John Ensslin, SPJ President, (303) 726-9213,
Abby Henkel, SPJ Communications Coordinator, (317) 927-8000 ext. 215,
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists is supporting Project Vote/Voting for America, Inc. in advocating openness of voter registration applications.
An amicus brief authored by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and joined by SPJ seeks to uphold the right to access public information.
At issue is whether the state of Virginia can withhold voter registration information from the public simply because the state included a promise of privacy on the applications. As the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia found, the information on voter registration applications is public information, excluding social security numbers, and cannot be withheld from the public.
However, the court also ruled that the state must only release future voter registration information, keeping all prior applications private. The amicus brief argues against this part of the decision.
“The fundamental right to access public information is crucial to maintaining an open and honest government,” John Ensslin, SPJ President, said. “As always, SPJ stands in defense of the public’s right to know whether the election process has been carried out fairly.”
The National Voter Registration Act requires states to make available to the public “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.” Journalists have long depended on access to voter registration records as a way to monitor the accuracy and honesty of the information state officials use to determine who will be allowed to vote.
U.S. courts have set a precedent in favor of releasing voter registration information on the grounds that “public disclosure … promotes transparency and accountability in the electoral process to an extent other measures cannot,” as cited in Doe v. Reed, 2010. Furthermore, the state of Virginia’s claim that voter information is private has also been refuted by a number of U.S. courts.
As a free press and free speech advocate, SPJ initiates and joins amicus briefs to support First Amendment and open records cases. Most recently, SPJ joined a brief supporting the Chicago Tribune in another freedom of information case.
Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.