|Voting Rights Victory in Virginia|
Court of Appeals Upholds Ruling that Ensures Transparency of Voter Registration Records
RICHMOND, VA – Friday, after a two-year legal battle, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld a lower court’s ruling for the plaintiffs in Project Vote v. Long, a precedent-setting case brought by voting rights advocates to ensure the transparency of the voter registration and voter roll maintenance processes.
The National Voter Registration Act (NVRA) requires that states make records relating to voter registration and list maintenance available to the public for inspection. In 2008, after receiving reports of large numbers of rejected voter registration applications, voting rights nonprofits Project Vote and the Advancement Project sought to review Norfolk’s rejected registration applications to determine if qualified persons were unlawfully kept off the voting rolls. The state denied access under Virginia law, which prohibits many voter registration records—including rejected voter registration applications—from being disclosed.
Project Vote, the Advancement Project, and pro bono attorneys from the law firm of Ropes & Gray LLP, filed Project Vote v. Long in February 2010, to compel Virginia to comply with the NVRA. In July 2011, in the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of Virginia, Judge Rebecca Smith handed down her decision in the case, ordering the Norfolk County Registrar "to permit access to any requesting party for copy and/or inspection of voter registration applications and related records."
The ruling was stayed pending appeal, but on Friday a three-judge panel for the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit upheld Judge Smith’s ruling following oral argument on May 17 by Ropes and Gray Attorney Ryan M. Malone.
“State officials labor under a duty of accountability to the public in ensuring that voter lists include eligible voters and exclude ineligible ones in the most accurate manner possible,” according to the opinion by the three-judge panel. “Without such transparency, public confidence in the essential workings of democracy will suffer.”
“The access to records guaranteed by the NVRA is vital to ensuring that states are not conducting voter purges in secret, or using arbitrary or politically-motivated criteria for removing eligible Americans from the rolls,” says Michael Slater, executive director of Project Vote. “This issue has never before been litigated, and, with controversial voter purges taking place around the country, it has never been more important.”
“The right to vote is the cornerstone of our democracy and we must ensure that American citizens can raise their voices on Election Day,” added Advancement Project Co-Director Judith Browne Dianis. “The court’s decision is a huge victory for the citizens of Virginia and for our nation.”
All text and images © 2013 ProjectVote. All rights reserved.