Local municipalities part of statewide FOIA request: Voting rights group looks for evidence of discrepancies in ballots

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette A voter checks into a Chassell Township polling place on November 8, 2016. A voting rights group has filed a Freedom of Information Act request to cities and townships in Michigan, seeking ballots, poll books and other items.

HOUGHTON — Copper Country cities and townships are among those that could be tasked with pulling ballots to comply with a Freedom of Information Act request from a national voting rights group.

The requests came from the Astoria, New York-based United Impact Group under the name “Emily.” That group was determined to be an outside contractor working for the national Priorities USA Foundation, MLive.com confirmed last week. The FOIA demanded copies of all ballots cast and counted, including absentee and provisional ballots. It also asked for any ballots not counted and the reasons why, along with any records regarding spoiled and rejected ballots.

In a statement, the group said it sought to identify “any discrepancies … that might disproportionately affect certain communities, particularly communities of color and young people.”

Houghton Clerk Ann Vollrath said the city received a FOIA request from the group on Aug. 20. The city asked for a $600 deposit to cover the $1,300 cost, based on 1,900 ballots cast.

Under Michigan’s FOIA laws, municipalities can charge up to 10 cents a page for a copy.

However, there’s a sticking point — reprinting the ballot.

“The City of Houghton has a pretty good printer, and that ballot is just one inch too long,” Vollrath said.

The ballots will have to be taken to a local print shop instead. As a secure document, the clerk or deputy clerk will have to observe the copying, said Portage Township Clerk Tressa Alvarado.

Portage Township also sent a response to the group stating how much it would need to spend on a deposit. It’s seeking a $1,500 deposit on estimated costs of $3,019.50, she said.

“It’s definitely going to be a time-consuming and expensive request, if they do respond with a deposit,” she said.

Vollrath, who is part of a listserv including clerks throughout the state, said none have reported receiving a deposit from the group yet.

Even if the deposits do arrive, the state has told them complying with the FOIA request shouldn’t come before getting ready for the November general election, Vollrath said.

“Some of us might have to wait until after the election to start that copy process,” she said.