Election deniers increase requests for public records in Missouri, across the country • Missouri Independent

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Like most people, McDonald County Clerk Kimberly Bell had never heard of a “record in votes cast” until this summer.

It’s not a report she ever generated after an election in the tiny southwestern Missouri county, where she administered elections for eight years.

But like many county clerks and election officials across the country, Bell was bombarded with public records requests, phone calls and walk-ins asking for the record — an action demanded by the election denier and CEO of MyPillow Mike Lindell.

During his late August”Summit of the moment of truthin Springfield, Lindell called each of his fans nationwide to ask for the record. He thinks the records of the votes cast – which are essentially electronic representations of how voters voted – can show irregularities in how and when people voted, revealing the need to investigate voter fraud.

Although the Missouri secretary of state and Republican county clerks have attempted to dispel debunked theories Lindell peddles, some Missourians continue to have an unsubstantiated belief that elections can be manipulated by electronic voting machines.

While Bell wants to be transparent and responsive, it has only four employees. And right now, not only are they working long hours preparing for the November 8 election and educating residents about the new identification requirements to votebut they are also responsible for county payroll, human resources and accounting.

“Some of these requests are very important,” Bell said, “and it’s almost impossible for us to stop what we’re doing for them. I’m not saying in any way that we don’t want to have time or that we don’t try to find the time.

The big question facing election officials in Missouri, as well as those across the country, is whether the records of the votes cast are open to the public or whether releasing them violates voter privacy.

Acknowledging that the issues surrounding the applications could ultimately be resolved through legal action, Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft sent an email to each local election authority on August 30 asking them to be sure to retain all related records. in the 2020 election “until we have clarity on what is public records or closed by court.

Two weeks later, Greene County Clerk Shane Schoeller, a Republican, filed a court case against a woman who submitted a public records request for records of votes cast.

In his lawsuit, Schoeller cites a provision of the state constitution that prohibits election authorities from releasing “processed voting materials in electronic form” or “computer programs relating to each election.”

“To my knowledge, there hasn’t been a case in Missouri that has dealt with whether what they’re asking falls under this provision,” said Schoeller’s attorney, N. Austin Fax. . “So we’re asking the court for guidance on that.”

Schoeller’s second question in court is whether generating a report that election officials don’t already have on hand would be mandated under the state public records law, known as Sunshine law.

David Roland, an attorney and director of litigation at the libertarian Freedom Center of Missouri who has represented numerous lawsuits against Sunshine, is defending Springfield resident Laurie Huddleston, whom Schoeller sued.

In an interview with The Independent, Roland said he commends Schoeller for asking the questions in court, adding that government officials have to pay the court costs if they sue a resident for clarification of the Sunshine Law questions.

Huddleston will argue that those cases should be opened, Roland said.

“The more transparency we can bring to the electoral process, the better equipped we will be to address these concerns,” he said. “Where we don’t have answers is where the suspicions and concerns about the outcome of these elections escalate.”

Records of votes cast

An election worker opens envelopes and removes ballots so they can be counted at the election office on October 26, 2020 in Provo, Utah (George Frey/Getty Images).

Election equipment supplier Corey Nibert has received calls from Bell and other election officials asking what a cast record is and how they can generate it. To better understand the onslaught of demands, Nibert, whose state/city-based Elkins-Swyers company provides statewide election materials, tuned in to the live broadcast of the entire Lindell Summit.

“What they claim they’re trying to find out, I just don’t see,” he said, “and we’ve been doing election work since the 1940s.”

Nibert describes a register of votes cast as a report in which the tabulator tells election officials: This is what was marked on each ballot, and this is the date and time it was read.

An election authority can produce an Excel sheet that puts this information into a readable format – not just the scanned images of the ballots themselves.

Here is the main problem, argues Schoeller in his lawsuit. The report can be filtered and organized to show the order in which ballots were cast at a location, “which may void the secrecy of a voter’s vote,” the lawsuit says.

Kara Clark Summers, Cape Girardeau County Clerk and President of the Association of County Clerks and Missouri Election Officials, said the potential issue could arise when a cast vote record is combined with another open record called a checklist.

The checklist shows what time a voter, including the person’s name, registered on election day.

In some smaller counties, where few voters enter at the same time, Summers said the checklist would show the voter registered at 8 a.m., for example, and then the voter record could be organized for show how a person voted at 8 o’clock. :10am

Combining the two records could potentially show how that person voted.

“People would be livid and furious that the way they voted was now a public record,” she said.

Roland said Greene County would not face the problem explained by Summers because it is a very populated county.

“I’m not sure of the legitimacy of those concerns initially,” Roland said, “but they’re certainly not presented in this particular case.”

Roland also said his client is interested in reports generated by Greene County’s touchscreen voting machines, not just the tabulators that scan paper ballots.

Nibert said he believed releasing the records posed a risk to voter privacy.

“I don’t think it will ever be something Missouri recommends,” he said.

Respond to requests

Every day, Summers trains election judges and disseminates information about the new requirement for voters to show current state-issued ID at the polls.

She also spoke with the likes of Linda Rantz, who gives statewide presentations on a report she authored and titled “Missouri Election Fraud: Identifying Evidence Outside the Machines.

“Our goal is to identify potential weaknesses in Missouri’s election procedures that may result in our votes being voided by fraud, ‘theft’ by bad actors, or dilution by glitches or flaws in our complex system,” states the Rantz report.

Rantz, an Osage County resident, is mentioned in Schoeller’s lawsuit, as someone who not only spoke at the Lindell summit, but also operates the frankspeech.com website and blog which features Lindell videos. She provided a form to request records of votes cast, the suit says.

Summers recently explained to Rantz that especially small counties do not have enough workers to meet the many demands.

“We were struck by so many of them,” Summers said. “We all want to be transparent, but we also have a job to do. Some people find it difficult to juggle this.

In late September, Bell hosted an election information night, where Nibert, Schoeller, seven other local clerks and co-chief election officer for Secretary of State Chrissy Peters’ office answered questions from McDonald County residents.

Since then, requests have dropped considerably.

“I don’t know if word got through to the people who attended or what,” she said, “but we haven’t had those requests.”

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