State of Maine

Maine Voter Roll Maintenance Records Challenge

Public Interest Legal Foundation v. Bellows

Lawsuit filed by a conservative legal group, the Public Interest Legal Foundation (PILF), against Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap (D) claiming that Maine must release documents related to the maintenance of the state’s voter lists. In its complaint, PILF claims that, under the Public Disclosure Provision of the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), the defendant is obligated to produce the state’s voter rolls for inspection by PILF. However, the defendant refused to do because under Maine law the person or entity requesting a list of registered voters must either be from a “political party, or an individual or organization engaged in so-called ‘get out the vote’ efforts directly related to a campaign or other activities directly related to a campaign, or an individual who has been elected or appointed to and is currently serving in a municipal, county, state or federal office.” PILF argues that this Maine law is unenforceable  because state laws are superseded by federal laws (in this case the NVRA). PILF requests that the court order the defendant to produce Maine’s statewide voter registration list for inspection. 

In 2021, the Maine Legislature amended the state’s statute regulating who could access the state’s voter file to include an “individual or organization that is evaluating Maine’s compliance with its voter list maintenance obligations may…purchase.” The amended statute also prohibits the dissemination of personal voter information to the general public. In light of these changes to the law, PILF amended its complaint to include three violations of the NVRA and alleged that Maine 1) denies access to the Voter File, 2) impermissibly restricts use of the statewide voter registration data and 3) improperly imposes fines stemming from those restrictions. 

On Dec. 20, 2021, the defendant filed a motion to dismiss all of PILF’s claims. On March 4, 2022, the court dismissed one of PILF’s claims as moot since under Maine’s amended statute, the “plaintiff can now obtain without the Court’s assistance information previously inaccessible to it.” However, the court allowed PILF’s two other claims alleging NVRA violations to move forward. On March 28, 2023, the court granted the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, ruling that the NVRA’s Public Disclosure Provision preempts (meaning supersedes) restrictions imposed by Maine law on the use of statewide voter registration data as well as the fines required to access it. In turn, the defendant will have to produce the state voter file to PILF without charging a fee or imposing limitations on the use and dissemination of voters’ data. On April 14, 2023, the plaintiffs appealed the district court’s decision to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. On June 7, 2023, the district court partially paused its decision pending appeal, meaning that PILF is currently prohibited from disseminating voter information “that identifies, or that could be used with other information to identify, a specific voter, including but not limited to a voter’s name, residence address or street address.”

On Feb. 2, 2024, the 1st Circuit affirmed the district court’s opinion. In particular, the three-judge panel agreed that Maine’s restrictions on “using the Voter File to evaluate another state’s compliance with its voter list maintenance obligations” and on publicly releasing Voter File data are preempted by the NVRA.

Case Documents

Case Documents (1st circuit)

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