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The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled on Friday that a nonprofit organization that promotes voter registration can access completed Virginia voter registration applications under the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), reports Ballot Access News.
Plaintiff Project Vote/Voting for America, Inc. (Project Vote) is a nonprofit that seeks to increase voter registration among young, low-income, and minority voters. The lawsuit in this case arose after Project Vote learned that students at Norfolk State University, a historically African-American college, experienced problems in registering to vote in the November 2008 primary and general elections in Virginia.
In particular, Project Vote worried that the students' registration applications had been erroneously rejected by the Norfolk General Registrar, defendant Elisa Long, who is responsible for processing voter registration applications.
In 2009, a Project Vote affiliate -- Advancement Project -- requested that Registrar Long make the rejected voter registration applications from January 1, 2008 through October 31, 2008 available, as well as any "documents identifying the reasons the applications were rejected."
The request was made pursuant to NVRA Section 8(i)(1), which provides:
Each State shall maintain for at least 2 years and shall make available for public inspection and, where available, photocopying at a reasonable cost, all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters, except to the extent that such records relate to a declination to register to vote or to the identity of a voter registration agency through which any particular voter is registered.
Registrar Long denied the Advancement Project's request, and the Virginia State Board of Elections supported that decision.
The question here was whether Section 8(i)(1), requiring public disclosure of "all records concerning the implementation of programs and activities conducted for the purpose of ensuring the accuracy and currency of official lists of eligible voters," applies to completed voter registration applications.
The district court concluded that Section 8(i)(1) does apply, and that Virginia election officials had violated the NVRA by refusing to disclose the completed applications with voters' Social Security numbers redacted. The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed that judgment.
The timing of this decision is critical for state elections boards within the Fourth Circuit because federal election cycles mean increased voter registration efforts. If you work for an election board in Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, or South Carolina, be prepared to turn over completed voter registration applications when asked.