Land protects voter's privacy

Image: Elections News

APRIL 21, 2008

Residents who participated in Michigan's Jan. 15 presidential primary won't have their political party preferences revealed thanks to Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land's commitment to voter privacy.

Land is refusing to release information regarding which partisan ballot each voter selected in the Jan. 15 election. Public Act 52 of 2007, which set the Jan. 15 election date, required the Secretary of State to provide Michigan's Democratic and Republican parties with a list showing voters' party preferences. Voters had to request a Democratic or Republican ballot to vote for presidential candidates.

"The purpose of the Freedom of Information Act is to provide the public with insight on the inner-workings of government," said Land, who based her decision on a recent court ruling. "A voter's political preference is strictly his or her own business. There is no public benefit to releasing such personal information. I will do everything in my power to protect the public's privacy, the right to know does not extend to the voting booth."

Residents statewide expressed outrage over the party preference list requirement, viewing it as blatant intrusion of personal privacy. In addition, many feared that publicly sharing the information could lead to voter harassment or the hindrance of job-advancement opportunities.

A U.S. district judge recently ruled that the PA 52 provision requiring the state to give the list only to the two major political parties is unconstitutional. The judge added that the state is not required to provide the voter list to any party. If, however, the information is provided to one group it must be made available to everyone.

The Department of State has denied a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by a consulting company seeking the information. In its denial, the department cited exemptions allowed under FOIA:

  • Public release of personal information that clearly constitutes an unwarranted invasion of privacy.
  • Information that is specifically exempted from disclosure by statute. In this case, the judge's finding that this provision of PA 52 of 2007 is unconstitutional means that prior law prohibiting disclosure of voter party preference declaration remains in effect.

"This is an exciting year in state and national elections," Land said. "Michigan residents will have opportunities in the coming months to make their voices heard. We will continue doing everything we can to maintain voter confidence in our election system. Defending voters' privacy is key to encouraging participation in elections and ensuring the integrity of the process."