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Kansas appeals court says secretary of state violated open records law by altering computer system

by Sherman Smith, Kansas Reflector
July 22, 2022

TOPEKA — Kansas Secretary of Point out Scott Schwab violated condition open up data legislation when he ordered a software program vendor to disable the capacity to make a community record, the Kansas Court of Appeals dominated on Friday.

The ruling is the latest victory for Davis Hammet, a voting rights advocate, in his 3-yr legal fight with Schwab more than access to provisional ballot data below the Kansas Open up Documents Act.

“By turning off the report capability, the secretary denied acceptable public obtain to that community report and the info inside of it,” Justice Stephen Hill wrote in the appeals court final decision. “That motion — picking out to conceal rather than reveal general public records — violates KORA.”

Every single election cycle, Kansans solid tens of thousands of provisional ballots, many of which are discarded. Some of the problems can be corrected. A voter may perhaps have neglected to update their registration after transferring, or an election official may perhaps query the validity of a signature on a mail-in ballot.

Hammet, the president of Loud Light-weight, which is effective to teach and engage younger adults and underrepresented communities on elections in Kansas, has filed a collection of requests for provisional ballot experiences below the Kansas Open up Records Act. The goal is to enable voters have their ballots can be counted, and to study the situation to much better suggest community officials about procedures that impact voters.

In an previously lawsuit, Shawnee County District Decide Teresa Watson ordered Schwab to switch the info around to Hammet. Schwab responded by criticizing the courtroom and inquiring ES&S, the program vendor for the state’s election procedure, to disable the reporting feature.

Hammet, who is represented by the American Civil Liberties Union of Kansas, responded by filing a 2nd lawsuit. This time, Watson dominated that KORA doesn’t involve community companies to create a software program operation.

Hill rejected Watson’s “strained investigation,” which “effectively seals personal computer documents.”

“That ruling would make it possible for all laptop information of public information and facts to turn out to be inaccessible via the straightforward manipulation of what the computer system process is asked to do,” Hill wrote.

KORA declares the state coverage is that general public data be open for inspection by any particular person and that the policy “shall be liberally construed and applied.” That indicates businesses should really not conceal documents, Hill wrote.

The law specifies 55 styles of information that are not open up, but equally sides of the lawsuit agreed none of people exemptions utilize in this situation.

“This is a obvious victory for federal government transparency and community information entry,” said Josh Pierson, the senior staff members legal professional for the ACLU of Kansas who argued the attraction before the court. “It affirms what we’ve explained all along  — that Secretary Scott Schwab violated KORA, and that federal government agencies really should be working to make information far more clear, relatively than significantly less.”

Hammet tried to get provisional ballot studies by submitting an open information ask for to every single of the state’s county clerks, who administer elections. One clerk mentioned in an e-mail that Schwab’s place of work had instructed clerks at a statewide conference not to reply to Hammet’s ask for. The secretary denied providing that instruction.

Schwab argued that he was getting held hostage by KORA, and that his motivation for disabling entry to community data is irrelevant.

Hill mentioned the courtroom can not “see how this KORA request held the secretary hostage when all it essential was for just one of his staff to force a button on the pc.”

The secretary’s claim that he no extended can generate the provisional ballot document is “disingenuous,” Hill wrote.

“What can be turned off can be turned on,” Hill wrote. “When the secretary directed ES&S to change off the computer system attribute that generates the provisional ballot element report — a report effectively declared to be a community history — he denied affordable general public accessibility to that general public record. That denial of community inspection of a community report violates the Kansas Open Data Act.”

The appeals court directed the district courtroom to order Schwab to restore the reporting element.

Kansas Reflector is portion of States Newsroom, a network of information bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Kansas Reflector maintains editorial independence. Call Editor Sherman Smith for concerns: [email protected] Comply with Kansas Reflector on Facebook and Twitter.