Town clerks burdened with records requests

  • Athol Town Hall and Main Street. Staff file photo/Paul Franz

For The Athol Daily News
Published: 9/27/2022 3:03:03 PM
Modified: 9/27/2022 3:02:10 PM

ATHOL — In recent weeks, media reports from around the state and the country indicate that city and town clerks have been receiving numerous public records requests demanding information on voting machine tapes, serial numbers, copies of digital ballots, and file names — all regarding the 2020 election.

Election observers from across the country say the requests pouring into municipal election officials nationwide are part of an organized campaign by conspiracy theorists to disrupt preparations for the general election scheduled for Nov. 8.

Athol Town Clerk Nancy Burnham told the Athol Daily News that her office is among those that have been getting an unusual number of requests for information regarding the election of 2020.

Asked about her office’s response to the inquiries, Burnham said, “It depends on the request. We have 10 days to respond to each request. That means we have to take the time to research the information people are asking for. Do we have the documents? Is there anything there that we have to redact?”

Burnham said responding to the requests is definitely a distraction from other priorities in her office. In recent weeks, she said, her office has received 15 or 20 such requests.

“We’re extremely busy getting ready for the November election,” she said, “and also preparing for the Town Meeting.”

Athol’s town meeting is scheduled for Monday, Oct. 17.

Winchendon Town Clerk Wendy Stevens said she has received as many as 15 public record requests recently. In addition to the November election, her office is also trying to get ready for a fall Town Meeting scheduled for Oct. 24.

“I am sitting out here in Western Mass with our hand-crank wooden ballot box and I am thinking, ‘I have no idea what any of these even mean,’” Shutesbury Town Clerk Grace Bannasch, who serves as the only elections official in the town, reportedly told the Boston Globe. “Over the last few weeks, I have just gotten so many of these. They have been so demanding and so broad.”

Secretary of State William Galvin and Attorney General Maura Healey are collaborating on a response to the flood of 2020 election-related public records requests in the Commonwealth.

“They are self-appointed vigilantes who think they are going to go out and protect America,” Galvin told the Globe. “It’s a different kind of radicalism. It’s dangerous because we have an ongoing election.”

During a “Moment of Truth” summit on Aug. 22, organizer and My Pillow chief executive Mike Lindell urged those attending the event live and online to file public records requests. Lindell, a staunch ally of former President Donald Trump, has for two years touted unsubstantiated claims the 2020 election was stolen.

City and town clerks must by law respond to each and every request, regardless of the information sought. Often, documents or items requested do not even exist.

Many of the documents or items requested on these public records requests often do not exist, and yet, town clerks are still legally bound to respond to each one of the requests, no matter how frivolous they seem.

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