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Committee Members (oAnn M. )estito (obert 1. )u22 (obert 5. Megna Cesar A. Perales Peter ). 8rimm M. 1ean 9ill 9a6le 9orrigan Colleen :avanagh )avi6 A. Schulz 3ran$lin 9. Stone Ste;hen <. Waters =4ecutive )irector (obert 1. 3reeman One Commerce Plaza, 99 Washington Ave., Suite 650 Alban , !e" #or$ %&&'% *el +5%,- ./.0&5%, 3a4 +5%,- ./.0%9&/ """.6os.n .gov7coog
3ebruar &%, &0%. )ouglas A. :ellner !e" #or$ State <oar6 o2 =lections .0 !orth Pearl Street0Ste 5 Alban , !# %&&0/0&/&9 *he sta22 o2 the Committee on O;en 8overnment is authorize6 to issue a6visor o;inions. *he ensuring sta22 a6visor o;inion is base6 solel u;on the in2ormation ;resente6 in our corres;on6ence. )ear Mr. :ellner>
? have receive6 our letter in "hich ou re@ueste6 an a6visor o;inion concerning Athe ;ublicBs right to access the electronic recor6s o2 ballot images in the custo6 o2 count boar6s o2 elections.C < "a o2 bac$groun6, ou "rote that voters in !e" #or$ since &009 have Abeen casting ;a;er ballots that are inserte6 at the ;oll site into ballot scanning 6evicesC, an6 the State <oar6 o2 =lections, "hich ou serve as Co0Chair, has certi2ie6 t"o s stems to enable voters to 6o so. #ou e4;laine6 that "hen a ballot is inserte6 into the scanner, the machine scans the ballot "hen it has been vali6l cast an6 recor6s, inter;rets an6 counts the ballot an6 stores the images an6 Acast vote recor6sC on t"o 2lash 6rives, one o2 "hich is the Ao22icialC recor6, an6 the other a Are6un6ant bac$u;.C <ecause the are store6 in Aran6omize6 2ashionC, it is Aim;ossible to associate an ;articular ballot image an6 its associate6 cast vote recor6 "ith the or6er in "hich the ballots "ere scanne6C, thereb A;reserving the secrec o2 the ballot.C When the ;olls close, the s stem ;rints out a Atabulate6
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results ta;eC, "hich is the o22icial recor6 o2 votes cast through use o2 a ;articular machine. One o2 the 2lash 6rives, a ;ortable memor 6evice, is remove6 an6 returne6 to the count boar6 o2 electionsD the other remains in the machine an6 is use6 in the recanvass ;rocess. *he contents o2 the ;ortable memor 6evices Ama be co;ie6 into ;ermanent electronic storage me6iaC b count boar6s, an6 therea2ter erase6 an6 re2ormatte6 2or use in an ensuing election. ?t is our vie" that the Aelectronic ballot images an6 cast vote recor6s create6 b the ballot scanners use6 to con6uct our electionsC are accessible to the ;ublic ;ursuant to the =lection 5a", an6 that nothing in the =lection 5a" or the 3ree6om o2 ?n2ormation 5a" +3O?5- serves to enable a count boar6 o2 elections to 6en access to those recor6s. ? concur "ith our contention, an6 in this regar6, ? o22er the 2ollo"ing comments. 3irst, 3O?5 is e4;ansive in sco;e, 2or it ;ertains to all government agenc recor6s. Section ,6+.- o2 that statute 6e2ines the term Arecor6C to inclu6e Aan in2ormation $e;t, hel6, 2ile6, ;ro6uce6 or re;ro6uce6 b , "ith or 2or an agenc or the state legislature, in an ;h sical 2orm "hatsoeverEC Conse@uentl , in2ormation maintaine6 in some ;h sical 2orm b an agenc , "hether on ;a;er or electronicall , constitutes a Arecor6C that 2alls "ithin the coverage o2 3O?5. ?t is clear, there2ore, that the electronic recor6s o2 ballot images in the custo6 o2 count boar6s o2 elections are Arecor6sC subFect to rights o2 access. Secon6, as a general matter, 3O?5 is base6 on a ;resum;tion o2 access. State6 6i22erentl , all agenc recor6s are accessible to the ;ublic, e4ce;t to the e4tent that one or more e4ce;tions to rights o2 access liste6 in G,/+&- o2 that statute ma ;ro;erl be asserte6. 3rom m ;ers;ective, none o2 the e4ce;tions authorize a boar6 o2 elections to 6en access to the recor6s at issue, subFect to the 6irection ;rovi6e6 in the =lection 5a". *hir6, bolstering this contention, as ou ;ointe6 out, is G'0&&& o2 the =lection 5a", entitle6 APreservation o2 ballots an6 recor6s o2 voting machinesC. Sub6ivision +%- o2 that statute ;ertains to the recor6s that are the subFect o2 our re@uest 2or an o;inion, the electronic images o2 ballots cast, "hich is clearl 6istinguishable 2rom sub6ivision +&- concerning Avote6 ballotsC, those that e4ist on ;a;er an6 "hich are not maintaine6 b means o2 electronic me6ia. Sub6ivision +%- o2 G'0&&& states in relevant ;art that>
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A=4ce;t as hereina2ter ;rovi6e6, removable memor car6s or other similar electronic me6ia shall remain seale6 against reuse until such time as the in2ormation store6 on such me6ia has been ;reserve6 in a manner consistent "ith ;roce6ures 6evelo;e6 an6 6istribute6 b the state boar6 o2 elections. Provi6e6, ho"ever, that the in2ormation store6 on such electronic me6ia an6 the 6ata an6 2igures therein ma be e4amine6 u;on the or6er o2 an court or Fu6ge o2 com;etent Furis6ictionEC ? note that this o22ice has receive6 a co; o2 a res;onse to a re@uest 2or the Aelectronic image 2ile o2 all machine tabulate6 or scanne6 ballotsC use6 in a recent to"n election in Putnam Count , an6 that the Count 6enie6 access on the basis o2 G,/+&-+a- o2 3O?5 in conFunction "ith G'0&&& o2 the =lection 5a". Section ,/+&+a-, the 2irst groun6 2or 6enial, ;ertains to recor6s that Aare s;eci2icall e4em;te6 2rom 6isclosure b state or 2e6eral statuteC. As in6icate6 above, there is nothing in the language o2 sub6ivision +%- o2 G'0&&& s;eci2 ing that electronic images o2 ballots cast are con2i6ential or Ae4em;te6 2rom 6isclosure.C <oth the Court o2 A;;eals an6 2e6eral courts in construing access statutes have 6etermine6 that the characterization o2 recor6s as Acon2i6entialC or Ae4em;te6 2rom 6isclosure b statuteC must be base6 on statutor language that s;eci2icall con2ers or re@uires con2i6entialit . As state6 b the Court o2 A;;eals> AAlthough "e have never hel6 that a State statute must e4;ressl state it is inten6e6 to establish a 3O?5 e4em;tion, "e have re@uire6 a sho"ing o2 clear legislative intent to establish an6 ;reserve that con2i6entialit "hich one resisting 6isclosure claims as ;rotectionC HCa;ital !e"s;a;ers v. <urns, 6/ !#&6 56&, 56/ +%9,6-I. ?n li$e manner, in construing the e@uivalent e4ce;tion to rights o2 access in the 2e6eral 3O? Act, it has been 2oun6 that> A=4em;tion ' e4clu6es 2rom its coverage onl matters that are> S;eci2icall e4em;te6 2rom 6isclosure b statute +other than G55&b o2 this title-, ;rovi6e6 that such statute +A- re@uires that the matters be "ithhel6 2rom the ;ublic in such a manner as to leave no 6iscretion on the issue, or +<- establishes ;articular criteria 2or "ithhol6ing or re2ers to ;articular t ;es o2 matters to be "ithhel6.
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A5 J.S.C. G55&+b-+'- +%9,&- +em;hasis a66e6-. (ecor6s sought to be "ithhel6 un6er authorit o2 another statute thus esca;e the release re@uirements o2 3O?A i2 K an6 onl i2 K that statute meets the re@uirements o2 =4em;tion ', inclu6ing the threshol6 re@uirement that s;eci2icall e4em;tS matters 2rom 6isclosure. *he Su;reme Court has e@uate6 Ls;eci2icall B "ith Le4;licitl .B <al6ri6ge v. Sha;iro, .55 J.S. '.5, '55, %0& S. Ct. %%0', %%09, /% 5.=6.&6 %99 +%9,&-. LHOInl e4;licitl non06isclosure states that evi6ence a congressional 6etermination that certain materials ought to be $e;t in con2i6ence "ill be su22icient to @uali2 un6er the e4em;tion.B ?rons M Sears v. )ann, 606 3.&6 %&%5, %&&0 +).C.Cir.%9/9+em;hasis a66e6-. ?n other "or6s, a statute that is claime6 to @uali2 as an =4em;tion ' "ithhol6ing statute must, on its 2ace, e4em;t matters 2rom 6isclosureC H(e;orters Committee 2or 3ree6om o2 the Pressv. J.S. )e;artment o2 1ustice, ,%6 3.&6 /'0, /'5 +%9,/-D mo6i2ie6 on other groun6s, ,'% 3.&6 %%,. +%9,/-D reverse6 on other groun6s, .,9 J.S. /,9 +%9,9-D see also <ritish Air;orts Authorit v. C.A.<., ).C.).C.%9,&, 5'% 3.Su;;. .0,D ?nglesias v. Central ?ntelligence Agenc , ).C.).C.%9,%, 5&5 3.Su;;, 5./D 9unt v. Commo6it 3utures *ra6ing Commission, ).C.).C.%9/9, .,. 3.Su;;. ./D 3lori6a Me6ical AssBn, ?nc. v. )e;artment o2 9ealth, =6. M Wel2are, ).C.3la.%9/9, ./9 3.Su;;. %&9%I. ?n short, to be Ae4em;te6 2rom 6isclosure b statute,C both state an6 2e6eral courts have 6etermine6 that a statute must leave no 6iscretion to an agenc > it must "ithhol6 such recor6s. While G'0&&&+%- re@uires that electronic images Aremain seale6 against reuseC 2or a time, a2ter the have been ;reserve6, in m vie", the sealing re@uirement en6s. Moreover, as ou in6icate6 in our letter a66resse6 to me, the last sentence o2 sub6ivision +'- o2 G'0&&& states that, unless other"ise or6ere6 b a court> AEat the e4;iration o2 the ;erio6 6uring "hich the are re@uire6 b the ;rovisions o2 this section to be ;reserve6, e4ce;t that instea6 o2 being 6estro e6, the ma be sol6 an6 the ;rocee6s ;ai6 over in the manner ;rovi6e6 "ith res;ect to the sale o2 boo$s, recor6s an6 ;a;ers ;ertaining to an election.C
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<ase6 on the 2oregoing, because the ma be Asol6C, it is clear that he electronic images o2 ballots cannot be characterize6 as con2i6ential or e4em;t 2rom 6isclosure ;ursuant to either G,/+&-+a- o2 3O?5 or sub6ivision +%- o2 G'0&&& o2 the =lection 5a". ?n contrast, sub6ivision +&- o2 G'0&&& concerning ;a;er ballots states in relevant ;art that> ANote6 ballots shall be ;reserve6 2or t"o ears a2ter such election an6 the ;ac$ages thereo2 ma be o;ene6 an6 the contents e4amine6 only u;on or6er o2 a court or Fu6ge o2 com;etent Furis6ictionEC +em;hasis a66e6-. *he $e "or6 that 6istinguishes rights o2 access to the recor6s 6escribe6 in sub6ivisions +%- an6 +&- is AonlyC as it a;;ears in the latter. *hat term o2 limitation clearl ;rohibits 6isclosure o2 ;a;er ballots unless a court or6ers 6isclosure. *hat being so, ? believe that those ;a;er ballots are in6ee6 As;eci2icall e4em;te6 2rom 6isclosure b statuteC, 2or the cannot be 6isclose6, e4ce;t un6er s;eci2ie6 circumstances. ?n sum, base6 on the ;rece6ing anal sis, ? agree "ith our contention that Athe electronic ballot images an6 cast vote recor6s create6 b the ballot scanners use6 to con6uct our electionsC are accessible to the ;ublic ;ursuant to 3O?5 an6 in accor6ance "ith sub6ivisions +%- an6 +'- o2 the =lection 5a". ? ho;e that ? have been o2 assistance. ?2 ou "oul6 li$e to 6iscuss the matter 2urther, ;lease 2eel 2ree to contact me.
Sincerel , (obert 1. 3reeman =4ecutive )irector cc> 1ames A Walsh 8regor *. Paterson *o66 ). Nalentine (obert a. <rehm
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