Va. Election Preparations Inadequate, Study Finds

By Kristen Mack
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 17, 2008

Virginia is among the least prepared states to handle Election Day problems such as long lines, broken machines and software malfunctions, according to a report released yesterday by voting rights advocates.

With 5 million people registered to vote in Virginia this year, a 10 percent increase over last year, voter rights groups are concerned about the state's ability to handle the onslaught.

"Everyone knows this election is going to have an incredible turnout," said Susannah Goodman, director of the election reform program for Common Cause. "We don't think they have the infrastructure in place to handle the volume. We are asking them to develop a contingency plan. We are not expecting a perfect election. We know machines fail. Let's not be surprised when they do."

Susan Pollard, a spokesman for the Virginia State Board of Elections, said it is "looking at the inaccuracies and developing a response" to the report.

"We have prepared as best we can," she said. "We have worked closely with localities to identify resource needs and address them before it becomes an issue."

Virginia received inadequate marks on having a system in which voters have a written record of their ballots and post-election audits on the 50-state report card issued by the Brennan Center of Justice, Common Cause and Verified Voting Foundation. The commonwealth needs to improve polling place contingency plans and ballot reconciliation, the report said.

"In many counties in Virginia, they can't really do an effective recount. You don't have a separate record of voter intent," said Pamela Smith, president of the Verified Voting Foundation and one of the authors of the report "Is America Ready to Vote?"

Virginia has hired 10,000 additional election officers to manage precincts and has signed up 30,000 volunteers to work the polls Nov. 4, Pollard said. State election officials expect about 90 percent turnout.

Some counties might be more overwhelmed than others. Prince William, Virginia's second-largest county, has not taken enough precautions, voting rights groups said.

In Prince William, the number of registered voters increased almost 11 percent this year. But it has taken inadequate actions to handle the anticipated high turnout, according to the Fair Elections Legal Network, another voting rights group. The county has a 6 to 1 ratio of voters to machines, one of the highest in Virginia. On Election Day, it will have four technicians and three spare machines, with 300 paper ballots at each polling place.

"I don't see what the plan is to handle the volume," Goodman said. "We are concerned about really long lines at the polls at critical rush hour times, and we are concerned that they don't have enough machines."

Prince William Registrar Betty E. Weimer said precincts will be more than adequately staffed and equipped.

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