RICHMOND, VA. (CN) - Virginia is disenfranchising black voters by placing inadequate numbers of voting machines in Richmond, Norfolk and Virginia Beach, the NAACP claims in Federal Court. The NAACP demands that the state keep the polls open until 9 p.m. on Election Day, place its voting machines more equitably, and offer voters paper ballots to cast rather than waiting in line to vote by machine.
Despite a record 436,000 new Virginia voters registered this year and anticipated high turnout, Gov. Timothy Kane and his administration "adhere stubbornly to inadequate levels of resources" in a manner that "is plainly irrational, non-uniform, and likely discriminatory," the NAACP says.
The NAACP says the greatest percentage increases in Virginia voter registration have come "in communities of color." It says, "Local officials in some of the larger jurisdictions anticipate 80% to 85% of registered will turn out to vote, compared to 67% to 71% in the last presidential election in 2004."
The NAACP says Virginia knows its polling places were inadequate in 2004, "causing long lines that led to the disenfranchisement of voters who did not or could not wait, particularly in communities of color." It says the state knows the problems will be worse this year. "To adhere stubbornly to inadequate levels of resources in the face of increased registration and increased turnout will result in a meltdown on Election Day. Voters will face even longer lines than existed in 2004, and many more voters will lose their right to vote in this presidential election than in the last.
"The problem is particularly acute in the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach, and gives rise to this action. Specifically, election entities and election officials in Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach have adopted resource allocation plans that unconstitutionally and otherwise unlawfully under- or mis-allocate polling place resources, including, specifically, voting machines and poll workers, in a manner and extent that infringes and burdens the rights of the voters in these cities and that disfranchises voters in these locales, including, particularly, African-American voters in Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach."
The NAACP wants the court to order, "among other things, the cities of Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach to (1) secure an adequate number of machines and allocate those machines in a more equitable manner and in a way that ensures that voters to not have to wait more than 45 minutes to vote, or re-allocate the existing inventory of machines in a more equitable manner and instruct poll workers to offer voters whose wait to vote by machine is likely to exceed 45 minutes the option to wait for a machine or to vote with a paper ballot, and (2) to extend voting hours for the November 4, 2008 General Election to 9 p.m. so to provide voters with more time to exercise their franchise.
"If these modifications are not made, thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of the Commonwealth's voters will be disenfranchised, including specifically, African-American voters."
The NAACP's local counsel is Henry Marsh III with Hill, Tucker & Marsh.
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