Clerk gains 'partial' win from state

URBANA – Champaign County Clerk Mark Shelden does not have to turn over telephone numbers from registered voters to the Illinois State Board of Elections if they were collected after May 2002, a Champaign County judge has ruled.

But telephone numbers collected before May 2002 still must be turned over when the county clerk makes periodic voter registration submissions to the state board.

Shelden on Friday called the ruling by Champaign County Presiding Judge J.G. Townsend a partial victory.

"We're happy," he said. "It's not everything we wanted. It's enough to provide the mechanism to make sure nobody's phone number is given out against their will."

Shelden said he intends to modify his office's Web site, champaigncountyclerk.com, so voters can easily request that their telephone numbers not be turned over to the State Board of Elections.

"My intent is to make widely available forms to get their phone number removed, kind of like they do with the do-not-call registry," Shelden said.

Shelden announced two years ago that he had stopped including voters' telephone numbers in his office's computer voter registration files and would not be turning over the phone numbers to the State Board of Elections when his office periodically supplies the board with registration information.

Shelden said he was taking such a step because the state board sells telephone lists to political parties and candidates. The county clerk said his office has received numerous complaints about residents being bombarded by telephone political solicitations, including prerecorded political messages, before elections.

The State Board of Elections argued Shelden's position was contrary to state election law and filed suit against him in April to compel him to submit the telephone numbers.

In a written ruling issued Thursday, Townsend said Shelden must turn over telephone numbers that were included in computerized records, then deleted, before the clerk's May 2002 submission to the state board.

"Having once collected the telephone numbers and included them in the computerized voter registration file, and not having received an individual request to withhold the telephone number, the court concludes that the law imposes a duty upon the clerk to submit," Townsend ruled. "These telephone numbers were in existence and 'available' within the meaning of the law."

But for voters who registered after May 2002 and whose telephone numbers were not entered into the county clerk's computerized voter registration files, the county clerk does not have to submit those numbers, Townsend said.

"This court finds that the law does not impose a clear duty on the clerk to collect the numbers and include them in the voter registration file submission," Townsend wrote.

Townsend noted that legislative language concerning submission of telephone numbers includes terms such as "if any," or "if available," which he called conditional language making him believe state law does not impose the clear duty to submit the numbers.

Townsend's ruling makes clear that Shelden doesn't have to submit telephone numbers collected subsequent to the May 2002 submission to the state, even if his office has those telephone numbers in paper files or separate computer files.

The State Board of Elections did not seek to require the submission of telephone numbers from voters who explicitly asked that their numbers not be given out.

A State Board of Elections attorney said his office had not yet seen the decision and declined comment.

Champaign County Democratic Chairwoman Gerrie Parr said she was disappointed with the decision.

"We understand fully why the state board cares about this," Parr said. "I think he (Shelden) should submit records that are public records. He should not be in a position of choosing what he thinks are public records.

"If every county clerk interpreted the law like he or she wanted to, then they would have no standardization from county to county."

You can reach Mike Monson at (217) 351-5370 or via e-mail at mmonson@news-gazette.com.

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