By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 28, 2008
RICHMOND, Oct. 27 -- The Virginia NAACP sued Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) and Virginia's top election officials Monday, accusing them of failing to provide enough resources to accommodate expected record turnout during next week's election.
The lawsuit claims that the state is violating the U.S. and Virginia constitutions by not allocating enough voting machines, poll workers and polling places -- particularly in precincts with high minority populations -- which could result in long lines and lost votes.
The Advancement Project, a national voter protection group, filed the lawsuit late Monday in U.S. District Court in Richmond on the NAACP's behalf. It asks the state to move voting machines to precincts most likely to have long waiting lines; keep polls open for an extra two hours; and use paper ballots in some cases.
"If they do not prepare adequately for the potential turnout, what could be the greatest collective exercise in democratic participation in our nation's history [could] be stained by government failure," said Advancement Project Co-director Judith Browne-Dianis. "It boggles the mind why officials would stubbornly refuse to prepare for the increased turnout that could potentially result in a meltdown on Election Day."
More than 5 million Virginians have registered to vote, including nearly a half-million people who registered this year in time for Tuesday's election.
Calls to Kaine's office were referred to the State Board of Elections. In a lengthy statement released late Monday night, the State Board of Elections maintained that all localities are complying with the minimum number of voting machines and voting booths in each precinct as required by state code. Since 2004, the number of voting machines, polling places and workers has increased, according to the statement. For example, the number of voting machines has increased from about 5,700 in 2004 to about 10,600 in 2008.
Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell (R) had not received a copy of the lawsuit as of Monday evening, said his spokesman, J. Tucker Martin. "The state Board of Elections is doing an excellent job preparing for this historic election," Martin said.
The group has conducted studies on election preparation in states across the country, including Virginia, and has sued in at least one other state, Colorado.
In Virginia, the group reviewed public records and other public information that described how many voting machines, voting booths and poll workers would be used in various areas of the state, including Alexandria. The report predicts too few machines and workers will be available per voter in high-minority precincts and that voters in those precincts will have to travel farther to vote.
"Virginians are going to turn out in large numbers, and election officials must act quickly to make sure their failure to prepare doesn't become a barrier to voting," said King Salim Khalfani, executive director of the Virginia State Conference NAACP. "If the court does not intervene, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the Commonwealth's voters may be disenfranchised, particularly African American voters."
The group's report says problems are predicted to be particularly severe in Richmond, Norfolk and Virginia Beach.
Researcher Meg Smith contributed to this report.