Attorney General Ellison: Supreme Court Cilek decision 'big win for Minnesota voters' privacy'
Minnesota Supreme Court holds Secretary of State was correct in restricting public access to non-public voter data, in case represented by Attorney General’s Office
April 9, 2020
April 8, 2020 (SAINT PAUL) — Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison characterized the Minnesota Supreme Court ruling today that Secretary of State Steve Simon complied with Minnesota law in not releasing voter data to an organization that was not entitled to have it as “a big win for Minnesota voters’ privacy.”
“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a big win for Minnesota voters’ privacy,” Attorney General Ellison said. “I’m proud of the role our office played in helping Minnesotans live with the dignity and respect that comes from knowing their voter information is protected.”
In a 5-2 decision authored by Justice David Lillehaug, the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the Secretary of State complied with and followed the plain language of the Data Practices Act and Minnesota Election Law when responding to a broad data-practices request from Minnesota Voters Alliance. The Court reversed decisions by the district court and court of appeals, and held that access to Minnesotans’ voter registration data is governed by the specific provisions of Minnesota Election Law and not the general presumption in the Data Practices Act. Agreeing with the Secretary of State’s statutory interpretation, the Court concluded that registered Minnesota voters only have access to “public information lists” as defined by law, as well to other information provided at the discretion of the Secretary of State.
Information on public lists generally includes the following information on active Minnesota registered voters: voter name (unless withheld for safety), address, year of birth, voting history, telephone number, and voting district. The Minnesota Voters Alliance, represented by executive director Andy Cilek, had sued the Secretary of State for the release of voter data that they were not entitled by law to have, including information on individuals who were at one time but currently are not registered Minnesota voters (e.g., inactive or deceased), and data on whether administrative questions exist as to any registered voter’s eligibility to vote (i.e., so-called “challenge” data).
The Court held that these and any other voter-registration data — such as full date of birth, driver’s license number, passport number, Social Security number, and email address — are generally unavailable under Minnesota law, meaning that voters are able to vote knowing that other personal information will not be disclosed to third parties.
A copy of the decision in Andrew Cilek et al. v. Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State is available on the website of the Minnesota Supreme Court.