Voter Registration Transparency Case Settled in Virginia
After nearly three years in the courts, a precedent-setting case brought by voting rights groups to ensure transparency of voter rolls and voter list maintenance has officially come to a close.
In 2008, after receiving reports of large numbers of rejected voter registration applications, Project Vote and the Advancement Project sought to review Norfolk’s rejected registration applications to determine if qualified citizens were unlawfully kept off the voting rolls. The state denied access due to Virginia law, which prohibits many voter registration records—including rejected voter registration applications—from being disclosed.
Project Vote/Voting for America, Inc. v. Long was filed in February 2010 to compel Virginia to comply with the transparency provisions of the National Voter Registration Act. In July 2011, U.S. District Court Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ordered the Norfolk County Registrar to permit access to any requesting party to copy and/or inspect voter registration applications and related records. On appeal, a unanimous panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld the ruling last summer in an important, precedent-setting opinion. After further proceedings in the district court favorable to Project Vote, the state then appealed a second time.
Yesterday, the case was settled in federal court in Virginia. The court-approved consent decree requires the Norfolk County Registrar to make all voter registration applications available for public inspection–without Social Security numbers, and in only limited cases, without residential addresses–for two years. The state board of elections is required to adopt guidelines designed to promote compliance with the consent decree throughout the state.
Project Vote was represented in the case by Ropes and Gray LLP.