Judge: Parties get free copies of voter list

Published 9:05 pm Thursday, October 2, 2008

MONTGOMERY – Alabama’s secretary of state agreed Thursday to provide free copies of the statewide voter list to the state’s Democratic and Republican parties, rather than charging a penny a name.

Secretary of State Beth Chapman agreed to provide the copies during a court hearing Thursday before Montgomery County Circuit Judge Bill Shashy.

State Democratic Party Chairman Joe Turnham had sued the Republican secretary of state for a free copy after Chapman had said the party would have to pay about $28,000 for the list.

Chapman had argued that state law required her to provide one copy of the list to the two major parties each election cycle, but it did not say the parties should receive separate copies before the primary and again before the general election.

The agreement was reached Wednesday after Shashy told attorneys for both parties — James Anderson for Turnham and Jean Brown for Chapman — to leave the courtroom and discuss the situation. Shashy later said he would sign an order that would complete the agreement.

Anderson told Shashy that as part of the deal both sides agreed to work with the Legislature to rewrite the law to make it clear how many copies of the list the parties are supposed to receive. Under the agreement, until the Legislature rewrites the law, each party will receive one copy of the list before the primary and one copy before the general election. The secretary of state doesn’t have to provide a copy of the voter list for runoff elections.

Rep. Jimmy Martin, D-Clanton, chairman of the House Constitution and Elections Committee, said he believed lawmakers would be willing to clarify the law.

“We will most definitely look at that. We need to have that spelled out so it will not be mistaken by the secretary of state,” Martin said.

Anderson told Shashy the party needed a new copy of the list before the Nov. 4 general election because it had changed “dramatically” since April, when the party last received a copy.

“We don’t want a copy of the list we had in April. We’ve had tens of thousands of people register to vote since then,” Anderson said.

Turnham said the party uses the list so that its candidates can contact voters before the election.

Brown told Shashy the secretary of state’s office has had an across-the-board policy of charging for copies of the list, unless the office is required by law to provide a free copy. She said the office has turned down numerous requests for free copies, including one from the Louisiana secretary of state’s office, where officials were trying to determine how many evacuees from Hurricane Katrina had registered to vote in other states.

Chapman said Turnham and Republican Party chairman Mike Hubbard would be able to pick up copies of the list at her office by 5 p.m. Thursday.

Turnham said it was urgent for the party to get a copy of the list with about a month remaining before the election.

The Republican Party did not seek another free copy of the list and Hubbard has said he felt Chapman was acting in a responsible manner.

When asked why the Republicans had not sought the list, Turnham said he expects “they already have it,” citing Hubbard’s close friendship with Republican Gov. Bob Riley.

Hubbard denied the accusation and asked Turnham to apologize for insinuating Riley would provide Republicans with a copy of the list.

“Governor Riley would never do such a thing, nor would we ever ask for it. The accusation is a lie,” Hubbard said.

Hubbard praised Chapman for working to reach the agreement.

“The Alabama Republican Party has had no problem working within the law on this issue and have certainly not whined or complained,” Hubbard said.