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Virginia Ruling Upholds Transparency For Voter Records

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A ruling by the 4th Circuit of Appeals is expected to increase transparency in Virginia voting records.
Michael Pope
A ruling by the 4th Circuit of Appeals is expected to increase transparency in Virginia voting records.

A court ruling that gives members of the public access to Virginia's voter registration applications could have national implications, according to the advocacy group that filed the lawsuit.

A three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals last week unanimously upheld a lower court's ruling that a federal law mandating openness of voter records trumps a Virginia law restricting access to the information.

The nonprofit group Project Vote brought the lawsuit against election officials in Norfolk after being denied access to voter registration applications of Norfolk State University students who claimed they were prohibited from voting in the 2008 presidential election.

The court ruling does not give the the public access to those documents, in part because they contain Social Security numbers, says Catherine Flannagan of Project Vote.  But it creates an important precedent for making the documents available to the public, Flannagan adds.

"The trial court said that the public wasn't aware that its applications would be made public, so there was an expectation of privacy that would be adjusted by its decision that rejected applications are available for public display," she said.

Back in March, a State Integrity Investigation ranked and graded each of the fifty states on government accountability, transparency and risk of corruption. Virginia earned an F.


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