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Conservative Legal Group Sues Matt Dunlap Over Denial Of Maine's Registered Voter List

Troy R. Bennett
Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap in this 2018 file photo.

A conservative legal foundation on Wednesday sued Maine Secretary of State Matt Dunlap alleging that his office illegally denied the group access to the state’s list of registered voters.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation Inc., based in Indianapolis, claims that Maine’s voter record inspection laws, which limit who can obtain lists of registered voters, violate the National Voter Registration Act. The foundation is asking U.S. District Judge George Singal to find that Dunlap violated federal law and to order his office to provide the organization with a copy of Maine’s voter registration list.

Dunlap declined to comment on the pending litigation.

“Secretary Dunlap purports to be a champion of transparency, until it comes to his own office,” said J. Christian Adams, the foundation’s president and general counsel. “Maine law conflicts with federal statute. A person or organization’s lack of partisan interests should not disqualify them from reviewing list maintenance records. Maine’s election records must be made available to the public.”

The foundation has said it is seeking states’ voter information because it intends to distribute a catalog of findings from many states about election fraud risks ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

The organization has similar lawsuits pending in other states. In Detroit, Michigan, it has alleged there are more people enrolled to vote than census data shows are living there. It also announced last month that it has launched an investigation into Illinois’ automatic voter registration system after the state disclosed that more than 500 noncitizens were registered to vote. The automatic voter registration forwards residents’ names from the state’s Department of Motor Vehicles to county clerks. The State Board of Elections confirmed that 16 of those 545 people voted in the November 2018 elections.

The statewide voter list maintained by Dunlap’s office includes voters’ names, addresses, birth year, electoral districts, party enrollment and voter participation history. Under state law, this file is available to political parties, individuals and organizations carrying out campaign-related “get out the vote” efforts, and officeholders at every level of government.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation, which describes itself as a watchdog group whose mission is to ensure voter lists are properly and accurately maintained, requested Maine’s list last year from Dunlap’s office, its complaint in federal court said. It allegedly was denied because the group was not involved in a “get out the vote effort.”

The complaint claims that by denying the foundation access to Maine’s voter rolls, Dunlap’s office violated the Public Disclosure Provision of the Voting Rights Act. That section “conveys Congress’ intention that the public should be monitoring the state of the voter rolls and the adequacy of election officials’ list maintenance programs,” the complaint said, citing a 2018 decision in Florida. “Accordingly, election officials must provide full public access to all records related to their list maintenance activities, including the voter rolls.”

A trial date has not been set.

This story appears through a media partnership with the Bangor Daily News.