The NAACP has sued Virginia in Federal court, claiming:
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 [i.e., Richmond, Norfolk, and Virginia Beach] — which could result in long lines and lost votes.
As a result, it reportedly wants the court to direct Virginia:
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.
You can read a copy of the complaint here. The crux of the argument appears to be that Virginia has failed to ramp up election day resources to sufficiently match the massive increase in voter turnout (the complaint notes that turnout for this year’s Democratic primary in Virginia was 146% higher than 2004). Further, the complaint notes some significant disparities in the voter:voting machine ratios across a number of Virginia jurisdictions. From the complaint:
Under the current plan for Norfolk, some precincts have a voters-to-machine ratio of 196 to 1, while others have voters-to-machine ratios of 496 to 1, and voters-to-poll worker ratios range from 73 to 1 to 283 to 1.
I don’t think it’s necessary to have perfectly consistent ratios, as it’s reasonable to allocate machines to improve the ratio in historically high-turnout precincts. However, these appear to be some fairly significant gaps, and the complaint certainly documents the problems with long lines resulting in discouraged voters in these same areas in 2004. And the state has reacted to those 2004 problems. From the Washington Post:
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.
The question, then, is whether Virginia’s done enough to prepare for 2008. And honestly, I have no idea. The numbers of new voter registrations in Virginia are certainly huge, and every bit of experience I’ve had indicates that actual turnout will match those numbers. The unknown, for me, is what local registrars have done. In Northern VA, you can hear elections officials encourage in-person absentee voting in order to avoid the crush of voters they expect. This is something I’ve never heard from local officials before, and it indicates to me that they’re worried about capacity to handle turnout. Then the very same officials will turn around and say that they’ve got everything covered for election day.
Given Virginia’s history of going with the bare minimums (often only when forced to), I can’t say that I’ll be surprised if the alleged harms in the NAACP complaint come to pass next Tuesday.