State Supreme Court to hear Norfolk voting case

By Matthew Jones, The Virginian-Pilot – May 25, 2007

NORFOLK – The state Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case seeking access to voting applications that were rejected by the city’s voter registrar.

The dispute began in the fall of 2005, when 55 percent of Norfolk ‘s new voting applications could not be immediately processed, a significantly higher number than in neighboring cities.

Fewer than 1,000 of the 6,064 applications were denied outright. Most were found to be incomplete or ambiguous, and applicants were given a chance to re-register.

General Registrar Elisa Long has said that part of the problem lay with Project Vote – a nonprofit group targeting low-income and minority voters – which submitted about 5,000 applications to her office.

Many were incomplete or had errors, she said.

Project Vote countered that Long’s procedures were overly exacting and placed extra registration hurdles on military, student and homeless voters.

Both sides appealed to the State Board of Elections, which cleared Long’s office.

Andrew Rivera, a civil rights lawyer, sued seeking access to the rejected applications and letters the city sent to those applicants. He eventually won access to some records but appealed to the Supreme Court of Virginia in the hopes of getting access to all of them.

As the case made its way through the courts, the General Assembly passed a bill stating that voting applications and rejection letters are open only to the registrar and the individual voter involved.

Information in the public voter rolls – such as lists of registered voters and those who voted in the last election – would still be available.

Rivera’s case is not affected by that change.

Rivera’s attorney, L. Steven Emmert, presented the case to a three-justice panel May 18 and received word Thursday that the full court will take the case, most likely late this fall, with a decision expected early next year.