Election-integrity advocates hailed the recent decision of a state court that could have a sweeping effect on election transparency throughout the country. At issue was whether electronic ballot images — the kind captured by optical and digital ballot scanners — are public records and therefore subject to freedom of information laws. That is particularly important because most Americans cast their ballots through some kind of electronic voting machine — despite their proven vulnerability — and ballot images provide the public with at least some measure that their votes are counted accurately. Therefore, easy access to these images is crucial. Knowing that the public has some measure of verification is an important deterrent against tampering with elections. That is precisely why this case from upstate New York is a major victory for transparency advocates.
The Appellate Division of the state’s Supreme Court ruled last week that Essex County’s electronic ballot images are public records. Essex was one of the few counties in New York that still required a court order to view ballot images. Now, the public can access electronic ballot images under freedom of information laws, a change that could influence election transparency efforts nationwide.
The case, Kosmider v. Whitney, began in 2016 when Bethany Kosmider, chairwoman of the Essex County Democratic Committee, tried to access ballot image records for the county. Dan Manning, the county attorney, refused on the grounds that Kosmider needed a court order to access the information. Kosmider appealed and was denied — then she filed a lawsuit against two Essex County Election Commissioners and the Board of Supervisors chairman.