Federal judge says voters’ birthdates are not public record in ruling against Mississippi voting record challenge

U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel campaigns in Jackson County on June 16, 2014, during a meet and greet event at Catfish Point in Wade. (April Havens/ahavens@al.com)
U.S. Senate candidate Chris McDaniel campaigns in Jackson County on June 16, 2014, during a meet and greet event at Catfish Point in Wade. (April Havens/ahavens@al.com)

JACKSON, Mississippi (AP) — A federal judge has ruled against a Texas-based group and several Mississippi residents who sought access to Mississippi voters’ birthdates after a disputed Republican primary for U.S. Senate.

U.S. District Judge Nancy Atlas ruled that neither poll books nor absentee ballot applications are subject to public disclosure under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993.

The plaintiffs, including Texas-based True the Vote, sought unredacted Mississippi voting records and claimed the federal law, better known as Motor Voter, made birthdates from voter registration forms a part of public record. They said they needed birthdates so they could verify identities of different voters with similar names.

Atlas ruled Friday that disclosing voters’ birthdates “raises serious concerns” about privacy, particularly if dates were to be released with full names and current addresses.

“Birthdates, when combined with other identifying information available in voter registration records, can be used to obtain — both legally and improperly — a host of other highly personal information about an individual, particularly in this day of computers with vast searching powers,” Atlas wrote.

True the Vote and several Mississippi residents filed the federal suit in July while seeking Mississippi election records after the June 24 Republican primary. Six-term Sen. Thad Cochran defeated Chris McDaniel, a state senator with tea party support, but McDaniel supporters searched election records to try to prove his contention that voting irregularities spoiled the runoff.

Atlas serves as a federal judge in Texas and was assigned to oversee the lawsuit after federal judges in Mississippi recused themselves. She traveled to Jackson and heard arguments July 25.

Mississippi Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, who was among those sued, praised Atlas’ ruling.

“In the political pandemonium of the last several months, our voters should be encouraged Mississippi’s laws protecting privacy were not pre-empted by federal law or the U.S. Constitution,” Hosemann said in a news release Tuesday.

McDaniel filed a separate lawsuit in state court Aug. 14 challenging his loss to Cochran. Judge Hollis McGehee dismissed it last week, saying McDaniel had missed a 20-day deadline to start a challenge of the election results.

McDaniel spent the Labor Day weekend considering whether to appeal McGehee’s ruling to the Mississippi Supreme Court. His is campaign spokesman, Noel Fritsch, said McDaniel could announce a decision Wednesday.

Certified results show Cochran defeated McDaniel by 7,667 votes in the runoff, three weeks after McDaniel led a three-person primary.

State elections officials have already approved a Nov. 4 general election ballot that lists Cochran as the Republican nominee, former U.S. Rep. Travis Childers as the Democratic nominee and Shawn O’Hara as the Reform Party candidate for Senate.