Georgia election officials required to improve public records compliance

A court settlement requires that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office improve its responsiveness to records requests after a government watchdog organization alleged it failed to turn over public election documents. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)
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A court settlement requires that Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office improve its responsiveness to records requests after a government watchdog organization alleged it failed to turn over public election documents. (Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com)

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Credit: Alyssa Pointer / Alyssa.Pointer@ajc.com

Lawsuit settled over open records requests

A court settlement requires the Georgia secretary of state’s office to improve its responsiveness to records requests after a government watchdog organization alleged it failed to turn over public election documents.

The agreement resolves a lawsuit filed by American Oversight last year that said state election officials stalled or ignored requests for information about an absentee ballot fraud task force, communications with the Republican National Committee, coronavirus response and election operations.

“The secretary of state’s office cannot ignore Georgia’s robust open records law,” said Austin Evers, executive director of American Oversight. “This agreement includes much-needed reforms designed to remedy the inconsistencies, delays and breakdowns in communication that prevent records requesters from accessing what is rightfully theirs.”

Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger’s office must produce readily available records within three business days of open records requests, improve training, require prepayment only when records retrieval costs exceed $500 and make a $35,000 payment to American Oversight, according to the Oct. 20 settlement agreement in Fulton County Superior Court.

“We hold ourselves to the principles of transparency,” Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said. “Our team will continue to answer requests as quickly as possible and believe that we would have won this case if the state had chosen to expend its limited resources to fight this frivolous lawsuit.”

State election officials said last year that responses to open records requests were at times delayed because American Oversight didn’t accept estimated charges in a timely manner.

American Oversight sued after Raffensperger’s office stopped responding to the organization even after it had paid $904.30 in retrieval fees to process eight of its requests. After the lawsuit was filed, officials provided several documents related to election operations and emails with political groups.

“It’s disappointing that it took litigation from American Oversight to force the secretary of state’s office to do the right thing,” said Richard Griffiths, president emeritus of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation. “The fact is that open, public records are absolutely key to the public’s trust in government institutions.”

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