By Anita Kumar
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, October 31, 2008
RICHMOND, Oct. 30 -- Virginia Republicans are fighting efforts by the NAACP to extend the hours that polls will be open and allow the use of paper ballots in Tuesday's election, calling the proposal a "ploy" to get more Democratic supporters to vote.
Republican leaders across the state are asking a federal judge to let them intervene in a lawsuit filed against state officials whom the NAACP accuses of failing to provide the resources to accommodate the record voter turnout that is expected.
"There's all this funny business going on in this election,'' said Del. Jeffrey M. Frederick (Prince William), state Republican Party chairman. "The other side is exploiting every single loophole that they have available to them. . . . We want a seat at the table."
A hearing set for Thursday morning in U.S. District Court in Richmond was abruptly postponed. It's possible, but unlikely, that it will be rescheduled before Tuesday, although the two sides could continue with mediation. U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams has not ruled on whether the five Republican officials and their organizations intervene in the case.
Days before the landmark election, which includes the first black presidential candidate of a major party, Virginia officials in the battleground state are facing questions about whether they are prepared to handle what is expected to be a historic voter turnout.
Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project, which filed the lawsuit on behalf of the NAACP, and Henry Marsh, a lawyer who represents the NAACP, said they need time to review new information about voting machine reallocations from Richmond and Norfolk.
"We are still very much concerned that the state is not taking proper steps,'' Browne-Dianis said.
Jean Cunningham, chairwoman of the State Board of Elections, said the state is reallocating resources as needed and will continue to do so until Election Day.
"Seeing what the state has done, hopefully, gave them some comfort that we are ready," she said.
The NAACP and state officials met behind closed doors in mediation for more than six hours Wednesday but failed to come to an agreement.
More than 5 million Virginians have registered to vote, including nearly a half-million people who registered this year in time to vote Tuesday.
The lawsuit, filed late Monday, 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, and therefore is increasing the chances of long lines and lost votes.
The Advancement Project and the NAACP are asking 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.
Gov. Timothy M. Kaine (D) said this week that he does not have the authority to expand polling hours. But Browne-Dianis said Kaine could ask the U.S. Justice Department to extend voting hours and make other changes.
Frederick said the Republicans want to be involved in the NAACP case so they can be included in mediation and prevent any changes designed to help Democratic candidates. He said he already faults Kaine for restoring voting rights of felons and Democrats for trying to register inmates at county jails and throwing out disputed absentee ballots sent by members of the armed forces who are overseas.
Virginia Democratic Party Chairman C. Richard Cranwell said that his party will not try to intervene in the case and that it is not opposed to the Republicans being involved in the lawsuit.
"We're not focused on litigation,'' Cranwell said. "We're focused on Election Day."