How the press is the friend of the people

DomeLight by Jim Zachary 

Once again the press has protected the public’s right to know.

It happens all the time.

However, it does not always make the headlines and often times the public does not know everything that journalists do to keep the actions of government out in the open.

This time a journalist alerted the Georgia secretary of state’s office that documents providing details about the state’s new $107 million voting system had been illegally redacted.

Of course, the state should be commended for being so responsive and fully disclosing the documents that should have never been redacted.

Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said in a prepared statement, “In the spirit of good governance and transparency, we are glad to supply voters with these documents. Our new voting system, including new Poll Pads, are our most secure system to date and we are proud both Dominion and KNOWiNK will be supplying the state with voting equipment.”

The SOS office provided some additional details, explaining that the new paper-based voting systems include an electronic Poll Pad, ballot marking device and printer and ballot box scanner. State officials have said the new system is supposed to provide additional security and multiple checkpoints along the way for voters to confirm their ballots.

The previously redacted documents outline what the state called the high-level security used by new voting system.

The ironic thing is that there were no apparent reasons to redact the information that had been concealed from the public and, in fact, the SOS office said the now disclosed information does not compromise the integrity of the new voting system in any way. 

In un-redacting the document, the state also transparently provided a link to all the information:

So, it would seem that the information itself was benign but the bigger picture here is that public information, no matter how innocuous, should always be accessible — easily accessible — to the public. 

Open government laws are not media laws. Sunshine Laws exist to protect everyone’s right to know and to give the general public easy access to government documents.

By making frequent open records requests, championing transparency and holding the powerful — especially the government — accountable the press consistently defends the public’s right to know and, in that way, is always a friend of the people. 

CNHI Deputy National Editor Jim Zachary is CNHI’s regional editor for its Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida and Texas newspapers and editor of the Valdosta Daily Times. He is vice-president of the Georgia First Amendment Foundation.

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