A federal judge has ordered the state of Maryland to release a list of Montgomery County voters, as requested by a nonprofit group reviewing various jurisdictions’ records for accuracy.
U.S. District Judge Ellen Lipton Hollander ruled on Aug. 8 that the group, Judicial Watch, must be given a list of voters, along with addresses, voting status and recent voting activity. She held off on ruling whether each voter’s date of birth must be released, too.
Judicial Watch first asked the Maryland State Board of Elections for voters’ information in April 2017. At the time, the group cited questionable circumstances — that Montgomery County had more registered voters listed than it had adult residents, older than 18.
Judicial Watch called this “strong circumstantial evidence that Montgomery County is not conducting reasonable voter registration record maintenance,” as required by the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.
The state declined Judicial Watch’s request after a debate over how it worded its request.
The group contended that it was asking for data considered public under the Voter Registration Act. However, the state argued that a list of voters, under state law, only may be released to a Maryland voter, which Judicial Watch is not.
Judcial Watch, which is based in Washington, D.C., filed a lawsuit in July 2017 to get the information it wanted.
In an interview last week, Mary Cramer Wagner, the director of the election board’s Voter Registration and Petition Division, said the group’s initial request was for the voting database, which has broader records and is not considered public, instead of a list.
Asked about Judicial Watch’s claim of inaccurate records, Wagner said two factors can explain a voter registration list that’s larger than the adult population.
One is that Maryland’s law allows people to register when they are at least 16 years old. However, they can’t vote unless they are 18 by the next general election.
A second is military voting. Members of the military might not live in Montgomery County, but may vote as county residents if their last address was in the county, Wagner said.
It’s not clear if those numbers can explain why, as Judicial Watch wrote in a 2017 letter, Montgomery County had 2 percent more registered voters in 2014 than it had residents older than 18.
According to Wagner, as of Aug. 21, 2019, Montgomery County had 723,235 registered voters. Of those, 10,640 were 16 or 17 years old.
The figures include both active voters and inactive voters, who no longer have a current address through the post office. Inactive voters have up to two more elections of inactivity to correct their registration before they are removed from the rolls.
Wagner said there is no record of how many members of the military no longer live in Montgomery County but consider it their voting address.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Quick Facts, Montgomery County’s population as of July 1, 2018, was estimated at 1,052,567. Of that, about 808,371 people were 18 or older.
Wagner said the state board told Judicial Watch that those two factors — 16- and 17-year-old registered and military voters — would account for the extra 2 percent of registered voters.
But Eric Lee, a Judicial Watch attorney who worked on the case, said in an interview that there is no way to know if the difference can be explained without seeing the list of voters. “It could be,” he said. “It could not be.”
Lee said getting access to the list of voters is essential “for the integrity of the election system.”
He said Judicial Watch has examined voting registration records in jurisdictions in 12 states with questionable records and this is the first time it needed a judge to compel that records be released.
Judicial Watch has not received any voter information from the state while the court considers the question about releasing dates of birth, too.