A federal judge issued a stay to an earlier ruling that would have made voter registration records available to the public. U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith ordered the stay after the Virginia attorney general’s office filed an appeal. Smith ruled two weeks ago in favor of the voting rights group Project Vote, ordering Virginia to open its voter registration records for public inspection. At that time, Smith placed some restrictions on the open records, saying only applications from July 20 onward would be made available, and Social Security numbers must be redacted.
Project Vote had sued the Norfolk and state voter registrars after a number of Norfolk State University students had their voter registrations rejected during the last presidential election. The Norfolk registrar denied the group access to the records, citing Virginia election law.
Smith ruled that federal law, which mandates openness of voter records, trumps Virginia’s law, which restricts access to voter registration applications only to the local registrar and the individual voter. Calling the case the first of its kind in Virginia, Smith said in her ruling Monday that it “touches on matters of substantial national importance.”
The judge ruled that if the state wins on appeal, the registrar would not be able to reverse itself once the records are made public. She also cited the wasted expense to the state if it prevails. And with the Virginia primary and state and local elections coming up, she added that she did not want to add confusion to the process. She also said the stay gives the Virginia General Assembly and Congress time to change the law if either deems that necessary.