Election officials across the United States face a growing challenge as they attempt to manage the surge of public records requests related to voting access and election administration. At the center of a controversy, a conservative initiative called Local Labs asks for extensive and often unclear requests, causing confusion and concerns among election officials.
Local Labs, a little-known conservative effort, has been inundating local election offices in at least five states with many requests for voter records.
These requests vary from obscure voter records that could take weeks or months to prepare to the addresses of every midterm voter.
Elections Officials Legal Obligations
The problem lies in the vagueness of these requests and the lack of clear explanations for their purpose, leaving election officials uncertain about their legal obligations to release these records.
Local Labs’ Motivation and Controversy
Local Labs’ CEO, Brian Timpone, asserts that the company aims to uncover election fraud. Timpone said, “We’re just trying to push for more free speech and more transparency, and no one else is doing it.”
Furthermore, Local Labs sometimes receives payment from GOP-backed clients for their work, which Timpone characterizes as political research and journalism.
However, experts in journalism ethics, such as Julia Wallace from Arizona State University, argue that conducting paid-for work alongside journalism compromises independence and transparency.
She said, “That’s not independent, so that’s not journalism.”
A Dubious History
Local Labs is part of a network with a questionable history, including Timpone’s prior involvement with Journatic. This company faced plagiarism accusations and ethical disputes.
In the lead-up to the 2022 election, non-profits and political action committees paid substantial sums to companies within the network, like Timpone’s former employer.
Promoting an Agenda
This financial backing raised concerns about the network’s impartiality, as the local news websites associated with it published stories promoting the agendas of their funders.
Legal and Ethical Gray Areas
Election officials are grappling with legal and ethical dilemmas stemming from Local Labs’ barrage of document requests.
It is often unclear whether the company is acting on behalf of a third party or their news websites, raising questions about the legality of providing the requested records.
In some cases, Local Labs’ employees have requested fee waivers intended for media members, adding to the confusion.
Challenges for Election Offices
Local Labs’ extensive requests have overwhelmed election offices in North Carolina and Georgia, where officials struggle to decipher the company’s intentions.
The requests’ lack of communication and specificity has hindered their ability to respond efficiently.
For instance, in North Carolina, election workers needed months to process a request for absentee ballot envelopes, significantly delaying their other responsibilities.
Local Labs’ Impact on Transparency
While Local Labs claims to be uncovering election irregularities, their recent report published by the America First Policy Institute (AFPI) has been criticized for misleading findings.
Wrong Place, Wrong Time
The report suggested thousands of fraudulent ballots in Arizona’s midterm election. However, these discrepancies were attributed mainly to voter list differences from various periods.
In response to the AFPI report, the county recorder released a statement saying, “There is no discrepancy (in) our numbers!”
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