Will Virginia Polling Places Be Overwhelmed?
Every election cycle around this time, the conspiracy theorists and extremists from both ends of the spectrum start crying foul about frauds and mess-ups to come. True to form, we're already hearing all manner of hysteria from the left about blacks being disenfranchised and from the right about blacks being paid to register to vote.
Despite the chaos of the 2000 election, however, the vast majority of elections in this country come off without a hitch, and as government agencies go, elections boards tend to be just about the most corruption-free of all.
But that doesn't mean we aren't likely to see some difficulties next month, mainly stemming from the apparent fact that turnout is going to be strong, and in some places, unusually so.
Now comes a report from a District-based civil rights organization arguing that Virginia is especially likely to suffer from Election Day problems such as overwhelmed polling places, and that the areas most likely to be hit with such confusion and disorder are parts of the state with heavy black populations.
The Advancement Project, which bases its work on the idea that the country is still suffering from "structural racism," surveyed election day preparedness in seven battleground states and concluded that Virginia is one of three states (with Pennsylvania and Ohio) where there are insufficient poll workers recruited to handle the expected crowds and where voting machines have been misallocated (with a disproportionately insufficient number in urban areas with large black populations).
Comparing registration statistics with the number of poll workers and voting machines allotted to a particular precinct, the researchers found that in Alexandria, for example, there are 26 percent more voters per poll worker in precincts that are one quarter to one half minority than in precincts with low minority populations. In Richmond, to give another example, there are 20 percent more voters per voting machine in high minority areas than in low minority precincts.
The state Board of Elections didn't deny the discrepancy, but said that local elections officials are working to accommodate the expected crush of voters. And the state has acknowledged that it is still short about 1,600 poll workers, especially in fast-growing locales such as Loudoun County.
It's worth noting that many polling places are overwhelmed every four years, as presidential elections routinely draw massively larger turnouts than the state and local elections in off years.
With some Virginia officials anticipating turnout as high as 85 percent this year--a number that is simply hard to believe given that it's a miracle anytime more than half of registered voters actually show up to vote--the queues may indeed be daunting.
And this is a good time to thank those thousands of people who volunteer to take a long day off from work to man the polls--the pay, which runs $100 to $200, is hardly much of an incentive, so these are people who are doing their civic duty for the good of the rest of us. It's also a good time--though you'd better hurry---to sign up to do your part and help alleviate the crush at the polls while making certain that tempers remain calm and people enjoy their participation in democracy. I spent a good chunk of the last couple of presidential election days wandering around with poll workers, and I can report that with the exception of a few hotheads, almost everyone comes to the polls with good cheer, and despite the long lines, most folks are decent to the poll workers.
There's still time to sign up (in most places, you must attend a short training session before Election Day, so now is the time to get started.) If you live in Fairfax County, click here or call 703-324-4735. In Montgomery County, call 240-777-8533 or click here. In Prince George's County, call 301-430-8053 or click here. In the District, call 202-727-2525 or click here. In other jurisdictions, contact your local board of elections.
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