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Macomb County Judge Rules FOIA Requests for Sensitive Election Data Were Properly Denied

LANSING – Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel has announced that the 16th Judicial Circuit Court in Macomb County dismissed claims (PDF) brought under Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) against 16 cities and townships. These claims were made in response to denied FOIA requests for election records containing sensitive information.   

In the summer of 2023, the plaintiff sued the jurisdictions and their clerks after they denied FOIA requests for voter history extract files from electronic pollbooks at the direction of Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson. The Department of Attorney General filed a motion to intervene in the case on behalf of Secretary Benson in order to assist the local clerks and defend the Secretary’s authority in managing the State’s election data.   

The records sought by the plaintiff included public information but also contained sensitive voter data and proprietary information that local officials cannot readily remove or redact. To protect this information and the security of Michigan’s electronic voter list, clerks were directed to deny the FOIA requests based on exemptions within the FOIA and to redirect the requests to the Michigan Department of State. The Department can readily provide the public information without the sensitive data and provided the plaintiff with the same information he sought from the local jurisdictions but without the protected data.  

“I am grateful that the Court reaffirmed Secretary Benson’s authority to safeguard Michigan election records and to provide public data without compromising private, sensitive information,” Nessel said. “My office will always protect election security against those who have a blatant disregard for voter privacy.” 

In granting dismissal in favor of the Secretary and the jurisdictions, Macomb Circuit Court Judge Edward A. Servitto rejected the plaintiff’s and his attorney Stefanie Lambert’s argument that the Secretary lacked authority to instruct the local clerks to invoke the exemptions and deny the requests. The court found that the sensitive data was rightly exempt from production under the FOIA, and because the Secretary had already provided the plaintiff with the requested data, the court dismissed the FOIA claims as moot. The court had also previously rejected a motion by the plaintiff to disqualify the Department of Attorney from participating in the litigation based on the Department’s recent charges against attorney Lambert. 


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