A federal judge has ruled that Virginia must make its voter registration applications available for public inspection. The opinion, issued Wednesday by U.S. District Judge Rebecca Beach Smith, stems from a lawsuit filed by the national voting rights group, Project Vote, which sought access to voter applications of Norfolk State University students in the 2008 presidential election.
The state Attorney General’s Office said Thursday it will ask the judge to stay the ruling while it prepares an appeal. Project Vote was seeking to investigate what it believed was an unusually high number of application rejections. It sued the head of Norfolk’s Office of Elections and the state Board of Elections.
“It’s a victory not just for Project Vote, but it’s a victory for openness,” Project Vote attorney Ryan Malone said. “We from the beginning thought the federal law required disclosure of these records.”
The judge ruled that federal law, which mandates openness of voter records, trumps Virginia’s law that restricts access to voter registration applications only to the local registrar and the individual voter.
The judge did apply some restrictions. Only applications filed from Wednesday forward will be made available, and Social Security numbers must be redacted.
Information in the public voter rolls, such as lists of registered voters and those who voted in the last election, were already available to the general public. Whom someone votes for will not be made public. The registration application also does not include political affiliation.