Report: High turnout, large precincts drove long lines in 2012 in Pr. William

A historically high voter turnout on Election Day 2012, coupled with precincts that are too large, created some of the worst wait times in the region for Prince William County voters, according to a 16-member bipartisan task force.

Precincts with a high number of minority voters were “disproportionately impacted,” the task force said in a report released this week. While polls closed at 7 p.m., the last vote in Prince William was cast at 10:46 p.m.

Some of the precincts most affected were Democratic-leaning. The report disputed allegations by Democrats that Republican officials directed resources away from those precincts in an effort to discourage votes for Democratic candidates.

“There was no evidence of either a concerted effort to commit voter fraud in the County or of any concerted effort at voter suppression,” the report said.

Bill Card, chairman of the Prince William County Republican Committee and a task force member, said that Democrats sought to exploit the long wait times for political gain.

“When facts and events are filtered through a certain prism and you’re unwilling to verify them, that leads you to make bad judgments,” Card said of the Democrats who had criticized local election officials.

County Democratic Committee Chair Harry Wiggins, who also served on the task force, said that while the panel could not prove that there was voter suppression, that was the perception. He said the task force did not have subpoena power. “If we could, I think it would have been a different story,” he said. He said he signed the report because he thinks the recommendations are sound.

The worst wait times were reported at the River Oaks precinct at Potomac Middle School in Dumfries, where the race for president and U.S. Senate drew voters who waited as long as four hours. That precinct has more than 5,000 registered voters.

The report found that at River Oaks and in places with a high number of renters, lines moved slowly as election officials sought to verify voter addresses or IDs.

The report recommended that the county divide precincts with more than 4,000 voters, or about 20 of 77 precincts, according to acting registrar Kim Brace. The report also recommended that the county buy new voting equipment by the 2015 election and ensure an adequate number of poll workers.

The county has already allocated $1.5 million for new voting machines over three years and additional money for more personnel.

Corey A. Stewart (R), chairman of the Board of County Supervisors, said he had not yet seen the report but indicated that many on the board would support making investments to ensure voting times improve. “We’re going to have to be reasonable, but we should be willing to spend a fairly significant amount of money to do this,” he said.

The Prince William report echoes similar findings by a Fairfax County task force, which highlighted many of the same reasons for delays there.

Jeremy Borden covers Prince William County, Va., for The Washington Post.
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