Conway defends Kentucky law withholding absentee voter lists - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Conway defends Kentucky law withholding absentee voter lists

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – A Kentucky State Senate candidate who sued for access to absentee voter data has a "fundamental misunderstanding" of the First Amendment, lawyers for Attorney General Jack Conway argue in a recent court filing.

Alexandria, Ky., resident Deb Sheldon, who faces two opponents in the May 20 Republican primary for the 24th District seat, alleges Constitutional violations in a state law that withholds the names of voters who have applied for absentee ballots until after an election.

Conway, Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes and several county clerks are named in the lawsuit, which Sheldon and her campaign committee filed in U.S. District Court in Covington.

"The assertion that Ms. Sheldon or individuals acting on her behalf are somehow prohibited from speaking to voters who have applied for an absentee ballot is patently ridiculous and unsupported by the plain text of the new regulations," according to the response Conway's office filed this week.

"The regulations simply prohibit any individual from obtaining from the Commonwealth the identities of voters who have requested absentee ballots prior to Election Day," Clay A. Barkley and Jacob C. Walbourn, lawyers in the attorney general's office of civil and environmental law, wrote in the filing.

Conway's response also speaks for Grimes and the county clerks.

U.S. District Judge David L. Bunning plans to set a date for a hearing in the case during a conference call Friday.

Sheldon has stated in court papers that she requested – and then was denied -- the names of Republican voters in two Northern Kentucky counties. The clerks cited the 2013 law in refusing to provide the information.

Sheldon is seeking those names to conduct an "absentee ballot chase," or a focused attempt to contact those voters directly.

Conway's office argues that a "fair reading" of the law, which passed the Kentucky General Assembly in 2013, shows that its intent is not aimed at speech – "political or otherwise" – but rather the distribution of material.

"These regulations do not discriminate based on the content of any message. They simply embargo government held information until certain time constraints have been met," Conway's response says.

The attorney general's office acknowledges that having a list of voters who have requested absentee ballots may help candidates target their messages, "it is almost assuredly of assistance to anyone who might seek to have a list of unoccupied residences for any number of nefarious reasons."

"The Commonwealth has a significant, and indeed, a compelling interest in protecting the privacy of those requesting absentee ballots and assuring that its citizens who exercise their right to vote do not fall prey to criminal activity because they requested an absentee ballot."

Sheldon's attorney, Steven J. Megerle, argued in a new filing in the case this week that the state's response has numerous flaws – including the failure to cite case law regarding political speech – and he claims that Sheldon's political speech is being "censored" while the law is being enforced.

"The Commonwealth's argument must fail," Megerle writes. "They provide no binding precedent allowing the government to restrict Mrs. Sheldon or any political candidate's political speech—and the access to absentee voter information to facilitate one-on-one communication in the political season."

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