Weekly CTA #1: How to File an Open Records Request

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CTA #1: How to File an Open Records Request

If you’re looking for specific government information, filing a request for Open Records can often lead you to the answers you seek. For our first Call to Action (CTA), we’re encouraging all Open Records newbies to try filing a request.

If you’ve filed ORRs or FOIAs in the past, then you get a pass on this first CTA 😀. But, if you haven’t, we highly encourage you to take a few minutes and flex your Open Record Request muscles. Citizen engagement is essential for good government. Don’t be a spectator, get in the game!

We’ve posted a short how-to on our website. You can find it by clicking here.

Be sure to check out the Quick References section, featuring links that will take you directly to databases of state specific rules, sample letters, and federal guidelines for FOIAs. (We also came across the DOJ’s list of FOIA exclusions, which is a really interesting read.)

If you don’t have a question in mind, here are some ideas:

  • Submit a request to your local election administrator or secretary of state asking for digital copies of all election complaints filed from January 1, 2020 to present.
  • Submit a request to your city council asking for digital copies of annual budgets.
  • Submit a request to any agency of interest asking for a digital log of all other open records requests or FOIAs submitted in whatever date range you specify.

There are many organizations focused on filing FOIAs (and suing if the data isn’t released). Judicial Watch has been very effective in their efforts. Other groups like American Oversight and Reclaim the Records also post their ORRs/FOIAs and findings. You may not agree with some of the positions they take, but much can be learned from their process.

Some jurisdictions use software to help manage requests. For a peek behind the curtain, check out the websites of Logikcull, Granicus, or JustFOIA. Understanding government’s approach to the answer will help you ask better questions.

If you get stuck, have questions, or want to share your findings, don’t hesitate to email us at [email protected]. We’re here to help!