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Requests for info on 2020's election hinders local officials ahead of midterms

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

The 2022 midterm elections are eight weeks away, but for some, the battle over the outcome of the 2020 presidential election rages on. And that's creating a challenge for election boards. In Ohio and other battleground states, numerous people have filed identical public records requests, seeking massive amounts of information about the 2020 election. That's coming as officials try to prepare for the upcoming vote. Here's Karen Kasler from Ohio Public Radio.

KAREN KASLER, BYLINE: Federal law says documents related to federal elections should be preserved for 22 months after the vote. So just as election boards were poised to get rid of their 2020 documents, requests for them started coming in. At the Warren County Board of Elections in southwest Ohio, Director Brian Sleeth got seven identical requests.

BRIAN SLEETH: We have about 180,000 ballots from the election that they're asking to view.

KASLER: The requests also ask for results tapes from voting machines, which can be 80 feet long, and copies of absentee ballot envelopes with voter identification on them.

SLEETH: So then we're stepping into redacting records.

KASLER: Sleeth says public records requests are not unusual. But copying all these documents could take days and might have to involve an outside vendor, which could send costs for each request into the thousands of dollars. And for smaller Ohio counties, storing the 2020 documents is difficult. Former President Trump won Ohio by more than 475,000 votes. But boards of elections in all 88 counties have gotten these requests. And it's not just in Ohio. Hundreds of requests for thousands of public records from the 2020 election have flooded boards of elections in battleground states such as Arizona, Nevada and North Carolina. Election deniers and right-wing activists promote the practice.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

TOM ZAWISTOWSKI: It's an issue of you writing a letter to your Board of Elections and requesting it, OK?

KASLER: Longtime Trump supporter and Tea Party leader Tom Zawistowski hosts a podcast from northeast Ohio.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

ZAWISTOWSKI: So when I put this on our website, I'll link to the instructions on how to do that.

KASLER: In an email, Zawistowski says he and other activists are following the instructions of MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell. Lindell is an ally of former President Trump, who's been leading efforts to ban voting machines he falsely claims contributed to massive fraud in the 2020 election, though there's never been evidence of that in audits or in court cases. Ned Foley is the director of election law at Ohio State University's law school. He says there could be a benefit, even if it's a strain for boards of elections to provide all this information.

NED FOLEY: And maybe giving access to it would ameliorate to some degree the concern about distrust.

KASLER: That won't happen, says Michael McDonald. He's the head of the United States Election Project, which tracks data and information about voting systems. McDonald says activists who believe the baseless stolen election claims are using a loophole in public records law to gum up elections. But McDonald says there is a solution.

MICHAEL MCDONALD: It's a very easy solution, but it's not going to happen, and that's for Donald Trump to admit that he lost the election fair and square.

KASLER: But for now, elections officials in Ohio and a handful of other states are working to fulfill requests for a huge load of 2020 election documents while they also prepare for this year's midterm contests. Early voting in Ohio is less than a month away.

For NPR News, I'm Karen Kasler in Columbus.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Karen Kasler