|Groups file suit over denial of access to voter-registration records|
CHRIS GRAHAM, AUGUSTA FREE PRESS
After receiving reports from their local community partners regarding large numbers of rejected voter registration applications, particularly from students at the historically African-American Norfolk State University, Advancement Project and Project Vote sought to review Norfolk’s rejected registration applications to ascertain if qualified persons were unlawfully kept off the voting rolls.
“The rejection rate by the Norfolk City registrar was troubling, given the high influx of new voter registration applications that came from low income, minority, college student, and military applicants,” said Bradley E. Heard, senior attorney at Advancement Project and co-counsel for the plaintiff in the case. “We are concerned that the registrar may have been using arbitrary and immaterial standards as the basis for rejecting voter registration applications, and we want to get to the bottom of this issue in advance of the 2010 midterm election cycle.”
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) has a public disclosure provision mandating states to adhere to certain requirements. In particular, the provision requires that records relating to the implementation of voter registration programs and activities be made available to the public for inspection and photocopying upon request. Virginia law, by contrast, prohibits many voter registration records—including rejected voter registration applications—from being disclosed. Advancement Project and Project Vote notified the Norfolk registrar and the State Board of Elections last summer about the conflict between Virginia and federal law and urged them to follow federal requirements, because when there is a contradiction between state and federal statues, the prevailing rule of law is the federal statue. Last fall, however, election officials indicated that in their estimation no conflict existed, and they believed that the Norfolk officials were acting properly in accordance with state law.
“The right of advocacy organizations and any other member of the public to inspect and copy those records and other records relating to voter registration activities is clearly permissible under NVRA” said Yolanda Sheffield, director of election administration for Project Vote, the named plaintiff in the suit. “Without access to the records we cannot determine whether the applications were properly rejected and/or whether any systemic election administration problems exist within the Norfolk General Registrar’s Office that need correction.”
The original February 16 Augusta Free Press can be found here.
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