Court Refuses To Order Production of Ballot Metadata
In White v. Skagit County and Island County, Case No. 72028-7-I (July 13, 2015), Plaintiff demanded that Defendant produce copies of voting ballots under the Public Records Act. Defendants objected, arguing that the Public Records Act (which requires that public records be made available for inspection and copying unless exempt either under a specific list of exemptions or under another statute) exempted the ballots from public disclosure due to the inherent secrecy of ballots and the privacy concerns involved. The trial court agreed with Defendant and denied Plaintiff’s request. Plaintiff appealed and the Court of Appeals of Washington, Division One considered the matter.
On appeal, Plaintiff argued that Defendant could solve the privacy concerns by redacting the identifying voter information from the ballots. The court disagreed, concluding that because only two individuals voted by voting machine in the election in question, if the court required Defendant to produce even redacted metadata and paper ballots, Plaintiff could still use that information to determine how the two people voted. Accordingly, the court affirmed the lower court’s decision that Defendant had not violated the Public Records Act and did not have to produce the ballot information – even in redacted form – to Plaintiff.