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A nonprofit group based in Indiana is suing Maryland elections officials in federal court, alleging that it was not allowed to buy a list of the state's voters.
A nonprofit group based in Indiana is suing Maryland elections officials in federal court, alleging that it was not allowed to buy a list of the state's voters. (Matt Button / Aegis Staff / Baltimore Sun Media Group)

A nonprofit group that works to expose flaws in voter registration systems is suing the Maryland State Board of Elections in federal court to obtain access to a list of the state’s voters.

The Indiana-based Public Interest Legal Foundation wrote in a court filing Monday that it was denied access to the records because the group’s requester is not a state resident.

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“This is stuff the state would have sold me if I lived across the street,” said Logan Churchwell, the foundation’s director of communications and research. “We only asked for what was for sale to anyone else in the state.”

State elections officials could not be reached for comment Monday, but they have defended Maryland’s law for obtaining voter lists in other court cases.

In another case brought by Judicial Watch, a self-described conservative group, a federal judge ruled in August that the state must turn over Montgomery County registration lists that the group sought in 2017.

“Maryland law limits access to voter registration lists to Maryland registered voters who pay a modest duplication fee and agree not to use the list for commercial or other purposes unrelated to the electoral process — conditions that Judicial Watch is unable or unwilling to satisfy,” Maryland elections officials wrote in that court case.

But the judge in that case found otherwise, and ordered the state to provide the Montgomery list, albeit without the voter dates of birth that Judicial Watch sought. The state and Judicial Watch have since filed written arguments over the issue of whether the birth dates should be made public.

In light of the Judicial Watch ruling, the Public Interest Legal Foundation argues that it should be able to buy the Maryland voter list.

“The court was very clear, if you’re just talking about the voter roll and nothing attached to it like date of birth, it’s a public record,” Churchwell said.

The foundation’s lawsuit asks a U.S. District Court judge to order Maryland to provide the list, as well as to award attorneys’ fees.

The Public Interest Legal Foundation describes itself in the lawsuit as a nonpartisan organization that “seeks to promote the integrity of elections.”

Many of its directors and employees have ties to conservative organizations and the foundation’s work skews toward issues often raised by conservatives and Republicans, such as voting by noncitizens, voters casting ballots in multiple states and voter rolls that aren’t regularly updated.

In tax documents, the foundation writes that it specializes in civil litigation “with particular emphasis given to aiding the cause of election integrity and litigating against lawlessness in American elections.”

Churchwell said the foundation did not target Maryland because of the Democratic Party’s dominance in the state. Rather, he said that he has been buying voter lists in states across the country to test access to the records and to have the ability to scour the rolls for problems. Last week, the foundation filed a lawsuit in Detroit, alleging the voter rolls there include thousands of dead, duplicate or otherwise problematic voters.

“We want to see what the state of our voter rolls are as a nation,” Churchwell said.

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