Litigation Team Helps Guide Project Vote to Significant Settlement in Federal Voting Rights Case

In The News
March 22, 2017
Colleen A. Conry
Emerson Siegle

A Ropes & Gray litigation team helped guide longstanding pro bono client Project Vote to a favorable settlement with the Maricopa County Recorder, the election official responsible for maintaining the voter registration records of 1.9 million Arizonans in Phoenix and throughout the rest of the largest county in Arizona.  The settlement gives Project Vote new, broad access to a wide range of critical records. It also commits the Recorder to improving recordkeeping.

In April 2016, Project Vote filed suit against the Arizona Secretary of State, the Maricopa County Recorder, and the Pima County Recorder (Pima County is the second largest in the state), alleging violations of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 (NVRA) and the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment and challenging Arizona’s practice of charging excessive and discriminatory fees for access to public election records. Project Vote’s lawsuit was precipitated by a records request submitted to the prior Maricopa County Recorder, which would have cost Project Vote nearly $50,000. As a result, although the Arizona state and county officials claimed to be willing to provide materials, they would do so only at a prohibitive cost.

To achieve the best results for Project Vote, Ropes & Gray engaged in active settlement discussions while also moving forward with the litigation. Following the election of a new Maricopa County Recorder, Adrian Fontes, the parties were able to reach an agreement that included a new fee arrangement under which most records requests will cost $500 or less. Negotiating the settlement has helped Project Vote establish a cooperative relationship with Recorder Fontes. Recorder Fontes praised the resolution as one that “not only protects our voters’ information, but will help bring more integrity and accountability to our system.”

The litigation continues against the Arizona Secretary of State and the Pima County Recorder.

The Ropes & Gray team is supervised by government enforcement partner Colleen Conry and led by associate Emerson Siegle.

Ropes & Gray’s longstanding commitment to voting rights has led to successful outcomes in a number of states, including in Georgia, Virginia, and Massachusetts, among others:

  • In Georgia, Ropes & Gray partnered with Project Vote in a federal lawsuit to ensure the transparency of Georgia's voter registration records. In September 2016, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Georgia ruled that the suit could proceed, and that the state must release certain records under the public disclosure requirements of the NVRA. In doing so, the district court denied Georgia’s motion to dismiss, and granted in part our request for a preliminary injunction.
  • In Virginia, Ropes & Gray succeeded before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit on behalf of Project Vote, when the court affirmed a district court decision that Virginia violated the public disclosure provision of the NVRA by denying public access to completed voter registration applications.
  • In addition to work with Project Vote, Ropes & Gray has successfully represented other voting rights groups.  In Massachusetts, Ropes & Gray – working in conjunction with multiple voting rights and civil rights-focused organizations – reached a settlement with state entities after three years of litigation regarding the requirement to provide voter registration opportunities to low-income citizens who receive public assistance benefits.
  • Also in Massachusetts, Ropes & Gray, together with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of Massachusetts and the national ACLU's Voting Rights Project, filed in 2016 a voting rights lawsuit in Suffolk Superior Court challenging the state’s 20-day voter registration cutoff law.

More information about the firm’s pro bono efforts is available here.