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Elon Poll: Majority of North Carolinians unaware of state's Sunshine Laws

An Elon University Poll shows that only 30.5 percent of respondents were aware that the state has laws making government records and meetings public. A significant number (41.4 percent) also view the state as being less transparent now than it was five years ago. The poll also asked about how much public records should cost and whether certain records should be public. 

A poll released Wednesday by Elon University shows an ongoing need to educate state residents about North Carolina's Sunshine Laws. The poll, conducted in mid-November, asked residents about their knowledge of and attitude toward government transparency. It also asked about specific types of public records and whether or not they should be accessible. 

Only 30.5 percent indicated they knew the state has laws that require government records to be available to the public and meetings to be open to the public. When the Elon University Poll asked a similar question in February 2011, 38.3 percent of respondents said they were aware of the state's Sunshine Laws. 

The 2013 poll also asked whether or not government agencies should charge a fee for the costs associated with retrieving public records. A majority of repsondents (51 percent) said no. This attitude is a reinforcement of the existing state law that says records should be provided to the public for free or at a minimal cost. 

Those who said there should be a cost were asked a follow-up question about how much would be appropriate to charge if it took a government worker more than 30 minutes to locate a record. The average response was $14.04.

An overwhelming majority (70.4 percent) of poll respondents would be in favor of amending the state constitution to make Sunshine laws part of the state's governing document. 

The people of North Carolina are also interested in having a C-SPAN-style television network that would air live proceedings from the North Carolina general assembly. When asked about such a channel, 80.2 percent of respondents said they were either "very interested" or "somewhat interested" in having one available. 

The poll also asked about specific types of records and whether or not they should be public.

A majority responded that the following should be made available:

  • Hazardous chemicals (86.6 percent)
  • Government officials expense accounts (84.6 percent)
  • Criminal records (77.7 percent)
  • Salaries (74.7 percent)
  • Gun permits (59.6 percent)
  • Property taxes (53.4 percent)

People responded that the following should not be public: 

  • Public utility records (62 percent)
  • How often someone voted (63.3 percent)
  • Goverment officials' work e-mail (58 percent)
  • Political party affiliation (57.7 percent)

Read the Elon University Poll press release here

Read the Elon University Poll executive summary here.

Jonathan Jones,
12/4/2013 10:20 AM