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U.S. District Court Refuses to Enjoin Kentucky Law that Withholds Names of Absentee Voters Until After Election

Kentucky law says the list of registered voters is public information. However, in 2013, the legislature passed a law saying the names and the temporary addresses of absentee voters cannot be released until after the election is over. On May 1, a U.S. District Court refused to enjoin the law, in a lawsuit filed by a Republican candidate for the legislature.

The candidate, Deborah Sheldon, wanted the list of absentee voters before the primary, so she could mail campaign literature to them. She reasoned that people who have gone to the trouble of ordering an absentee ballot are especially likely to vote. She filed a federal lawsuit, alleging that the First Amendment protects her right to get the list. However, Judge David L. Bunning said that the First Amendment, by itself, has never been interpreted to mean that the government must disclose any particular type of information.

The state argued that the list should not be released, partly because southeastern Kentucky has a recent tradition of vote-buying. Individuals who bribe voters to vote a certain way are especially advantaged when voters vote absentee, because then the vote-buyer can watch the voter mark the ballot. The decision says that if the candidate has a right to the list, then it follows that everyone else would have a right to the list also. Sheldon v Grimes, eastern district, civ 14-60. Thanks to Rick Hasen for this news.

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