The State Elections Board now charges an exorbitant fee to copy certain public documents. The board's new fee applies to voter lists used by candidates to canvass and solicit prospective constituents and send newsletters and other mailings.
One state legislator told Madison's Isthmus newspaper voter lists collected from clerks in her district used to cost her a total of $75. Now available only through the Elections Board, her list will cost about $500. A copy of the entire statewide voter list will cost $12,500.
The board says the big fee - a flat $25 plus $5 for every 1,000 names - is needed to pay for the new $28 million statewide voter database - warts and all - and that some of the people who buy voter lists are going to sell them for a profit anyway.
WDC sees two problems with the high fee which we opposed when the board approved it in August. First, the fees are substantially higher than what it actually costs to copy the data. Second, the high fees are yet another competitive advantage for incumbents who raise substantially more money than challengers.
Unfortunately the board can get away with it - for now - because the Legislature exempted the voter list fee from the state Open Records Law. That law is one of the cornerstones of open government. It prohibits government from denying public access to records except for some personal, health and employment information, as well as records in active police investigations. More importantly in this case - the law also prohibits government from charging high fees for copies of public records.