Readers of this column know that News Hits has a soft spot for outsiders. We get pissed off when people in power use that position to benefit themselves to the exclusion of others — especially when one of the outsiders being excluded happens to be us. Which is why we're happy to report that the Metro Times is one of several plaintiffs being represented by the ACLU in a federal lawsuit the civil liberties organization filed against Michigan Secretary of State Terri Lynn Land last week.
The issue has to do with voting records and who has access to them. As it stands now — based on a law passed by the state Legislature in August 2007 — information about who voted and which party they supported can only be provided to the state's Republican and Democratic parties. They can do with it what they want. But if News Hits — or anyone else, for that matter, whether it be the Green Party or a historian doing research — were to somehow get ahold of the info and somehow "use" these "secret" records, we could be charged with a misdemeanor, thrown in the slammer for up to 93 days and face a fine of $1,000.
Here's the principle at stake: Taxpayers paid for gathering of this information, and because of that it should not be the exclusive property of anyone. The lawsuit alleges that the provision violates the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. It also violates the First Amendment because of the restrictions placed on newsgathering organizations.
That's why we became involved.
Secretary of State Land's office told us they hadn't had time to review the lawsuit, being busy with the primary and all, and couldn't respond. A spokesman for the state Republican Party said limiting access to the information to the two parties was something the Democrats wanted.
"It's never been a make-or-break issue for the Republican Party. The provision that's the subject of the lawsuit was added at the request of the Michigan Democratic Party," says Republican spokesman Bill Nowling.
The Dems didn't return our call seeking comment.
But that's OK. This is one more time when the outsiders want to be let in, and we're not going away.News Hits is edited by Curt Guyette. Contact the column at 313-202-8004 or NewsHits@metrotimes.com