States respond to deluge of records requests aimed at election officials

July 2024 1 min read by The CEIR Team

Public records requests are vital for government transparency. But recent years have seen a sharp increase in records requests aimed at election officials that are unreasonably broad or based on misinformation, leading to a significant diversion of resources and time from crucial election administration tasks.

Matt Crane, Executive Director of the Colorado County Clerks Association, equated the tactic to “a denial-of-service attack on local government,” referring to an attempt to shut down a system by overwhelming its resources.

A new Focus Brief by the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR) identifies four types of legislative responses to this challenge enacted or considered by states since the 2020 general election:

  1. Processing all election-related records requests at the state level, relieving local offices of this responsibility.
  2. Consolidating election records into publicly searchable databases.
  3. Granting officials greater power to challenge or deny clearly frivolous or burdensome requests.
  4. Clarifying what constitutes a reasonable effort in fulfilling requests.

In addition to studying the response to the problem, the brief underscores the significant negative impact. In some areas, officials spend a considerable portion of their time processing records to fulfill such requests, detracting from other essential tasks. To cite a single example from 2022, the elections department of Maricopa County, Arizona dedicated nearly half its staff for four days to fulfilling a single records request— time taken from the many tasks of election administration in a large, complex county.

By considering strategies like these, states can help election officials maintain fair and efficient elections while still upholding transparency and accountability for the 2024 general election and beyond. “It gives county officials some much-needed peace of mind,” said Matt Clark of such efforts. “Now they have more time to respond, which helps them maintain focus on conducting elections.”

Read the CEIR Focus Brief

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