Monday, December 01, 2014

City Of Indianapolis Continues To Flaunt Public Access Laws

Recently I wrote about my negative experience with the Marion Co. Board of Voter Registration ("MCBVR"), which took the indefensible position that state law prohibited the release of much of a voter's registration information and all of a voter's voting history. Voting registration and voting history records have long been deemed public information under the state's Access to Public Records Act ("APRA"). Even Marion County election officials have always responded favorably to those requests--that is until the Marion Co. Election Board enacted a new policy in 2012 intended to limit electronic voting record information that could be obtained by candidates not slated by either major political party in an effort to undermine their campaign efforts to reach voters.

Both political parties receive all of the information about registered voters in this state, including their voting history, except information deemed confidential by state law such as a person's social security number. When I recently submitted a request for a particular voter's voting registration and voting history, the MCBVR abruptly responded, "Pursuant to the policy adopted by the Marion County Board of Election we are not permitted to release this information." the letter read. "Voting history is prohibited from disclosure by the Board of Voter Registration." After I  wrote back to the MCBVR detailing the requirements of Indiana law respecting public access to voter registration and voting history, I was once again denied the requested information, except for a heavily redacted copy of the voter's registration.The MCBVR produced only a redacted copy of the voter's registration card (VRG-7), which blacked out the person's gender, date of birth, telephone number, social security number and date of registration.

In response to a complaint I filed with the state's Public Access Counselor, the Public Access Counselor determined the information I requested was subject to the public records law. The Public Access Counselor agreed with my interpretation of state law, which only gave the MCBVR authority to limit information it provided in compiled electronic format on all of the registered voters, or parts thereof, not to public records requests pertaining to individual voters. The Public Access Counselor further noted the MCBVR had not maintained that any of the records I sought were deemed confidential under state law, which is the case with respect to a person's social security number.

Upon receiving the Public Access Counselor's advisory opinion, Indianapolis' Public Access Counselor, Samantha  DeWester, sent me a terse letter in which she stated "[t]he City of Indianapolis has no records that are responsive to your request." Subsequently, I visited with MCBVR co-director Cindy Mowery and asked her about the non-responsive letter I had received from DeWester. She explained to me that she had received a telephone call from the Corporation Counsel's office asking her if there was any voting history for the voter in question, to which she responded "no" because the records indicated the voter had never participated in any elections in Marion County since registering to vote. The Corporation Counsel's office requested no further information from her.

It would seem to me that the proper response would have been to produce a printout from the computer system indicating no voting history for the person in question so I would at least know for which part of my request there were no records found, or at least state explicitly that no voting history was found. Obviously, a new copy of the VRG-7 form for the voter should have been produced without redacting the voter's gender, date of birth and date of registration at a minimum, unless the Corporation Counsel's office could point to a specific state law that made that information confidential. It's obviously not confidential information since that information is shared in bulk electronic format with the state's political parties, the four legislative leaders, the Supreme Court and even the media, if requested.

The media should be alarmed at the open hostility the City of Indianapolis has increasingly exhibited to public records requests under the Ballard administration. The City's attorneys have been schooled numerous times by the state's Public Access Counselor on the requirements of state law, but given the large number of complaints filed against the City with the Public Access Counselor, the attorneys who work there aren't moved at all by the fact they are flaunting the state's public records law.


Anonymous said...

In Indiana, the law isn't what's written in a book. The law is what actually happens.

What actually happens to a City attorney when he or she ignores the written law? Nothing. They stall another records filer, and nothing happens, again and again. There's your real law. What are you going to do? What do you think you can do about it if "The Law" is just empty words on paper?

In Indiana, the good attorneys know the written law is meaningless and play within the realm of what actually can happen. The written law is mere window dressing.

In many ways, Indiana is a quasi-anarchic state, as there is no fixed law in Indiana.

If you want to know what the law is in Indiana, you bring your matter to the folks who will create the actual results, and you work it out with them.

When you go into court using the written law, you risk embarrassing the real law, and the real law might be forced to make an example of you.

You could go to Federal Court, but you need be sure you're going to win in Chicago, because the real law in Indiana doesn't have too many superiors. They have to listen to the 7th Circuit, but heaven help you if you lose in Federal Court.

If you think "The Law" is what's written in a book, and if you expect the government to be held to its own words, you're in the wrong state. Head to California.

Anonymous said...

Samantha DeWester? Good lord what a freaking c*nt.