Editorial: Condos should take his own advice

We are big fans of Secretary of State Jim Condos.  For years we have attended his Transparency Tour events and applauded his advocacy for the state’s Open Meeting Law as well as his call for a powerful state ethics commission. And for this newspaper and many more, his work on behalf of a robust interpretation of Vermont’s public records law is especially welcome.

But we have misgivings about his latest move. Last Friday, in a Letter to the Editor, Condos wrote, “While it gives me pause to enable the work of this commission in any way, I am bound by law to provide our publicly available voter file, but will provide no more information than is available to any individual requesting the file.” That meant, he said, no Social Security numbers, no birth dates and no drivers license information among others.

Then on Monday, Condos clarified, then revised this statement.  Now he is consulting the Attorney General in search of a justification for withholding the voter checklist, which is a public document. Deputy Secretary of State Chris Winters told The Telegraph on Wednesday that the statute says that the list may not be used for commercial purposes and anyone requesting the checklist from Condos’ office must sign an affidavit to that effect.  The commission, he added, has said that it would make all information that it receives public, leading to questions of whether it could be obtained and used in ways the statute prohibits.

Condos has stated that the commission is a sham designed to give credence to the president’s claims of election fraud. If he is correct, it will reach that conclusion whether it receives the Vermont voter checklist or not. And if our state checklist is not provided it can be made to look like Vermont is concealing or even encouraging voter fraud.

The reason voter checklists are public is to ensure the integrity of the election process. That’s worked pretty well as far as we can see. As a newspaper, we have requested voter checklists from several towns and we filled out the required affidavit and receive the monthly statewide checklist that is at issue here. Anyone requesting a checklist can – if not for a commercial purpose – disseminate the information in any way he or she sees fit. If a state official sets the precedent of deciding who can and cannot have access to public documents based on his opinion of the requester, we are harmed far more than if a “sham commission” comes to a questionable conclusion.

Secretary Condos has also said that he does not want to send the checklist over what has been described as unsecure email and questions the security of the commission’s data storage. For a public document, that really shouldn’t make much of a difference, but if that’s a stumbling block, we think the president has already pointed to a solution.

President Trump has said he never sends important information by computer. He sends paper documents carried by a courier.

So, if Secretary Condos wants to observe the public records law but still register his displeasure with the commission, he might take a page from the man behind all this. Print out the list and get on Amtrak’s Vermonter from Montpelier to Washington’s Union Station. A trenchcoat and handcuffed brief case would be a nice touch, but the voter file would run to over 8,000 pages so a hand truck might be a better choice. If it’s that important, the commission can scan or retype it. If not, what’s all the brouhaha?

The Secretary of State’s office has long told town clerks, select boards and other public servants they should  “err on the side of openness.”  We think that’s good advice.

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  1. Raymond Makul says:

    The national popular vote is irrelevant in our election of a president. However, some people have seized upon it as a argument to delegitimize the 2016 election. Thus, they have given it an importance beyond what is provided for in the U.S. Constitution.

    It is already known that Vermont mistakenly sent voter registration forms to everyone with a drivers license, including aliens without voting privileges. When that mistake was discovered, there were efforts to reverse it. But how many ineligibles registered, made it to our voting lists, and then voted? Inquiring minds would like to know. Isn’t some transparency warranted?

  2. Our opinion piece was saying that the rule of law is the most important thing. Robert Bolt said it so well in “A Man for All Seasons:”

    “William Roper: “So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!”

    Sir Thomas More: “Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?”

    William Roper: “Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!”

    Sir Thomas More: “Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!”

  3. Bruce Farr says:

    In my opinion, regardless if the voter checklist names and addresses are all public information to begin with, Secretary Condos’s position on this has a moral component, and is based on principle. By joining the majority of U.S. states that are also refusing to comply, Condos is, in essence, saying that Vermont will not be party to a highly politicized effort to substantiate Donald Trump’s baseless, ego-driven claims of extensive voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election. Trusting that ANY information provided to Kansas Secy. of State Kris Kobach and VP Mike Pence (respectively, the co-chair and chair of the data-gathering committee) will be used impartially and for good cause is, at best, misguided. I applaud Jim Condos’s–and Vermont’s–position on this issue.

  4. Aleks Hunter says:

    This is disturbing. If he turns over the list with names, addresses dates of birth and social security numbers intact as demanded, to an unsecured system, then goes the further step of publishing all of that data it will instantly become open season on Americans for every sleazy identity thief on the planet. We have enough problems with that already.

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