Washington, DC—Virginia Democrats are worried that long lines at polling places in key Virginia counties may discourage voters and cause them to go home without voting. Since this morning, there have been reports of long lines and waits of up to two hours in large Democratic-leaning counties immediately outside DC, such as Arlington, and key swing counties to Arlington’s south such as Prince William. Virginia election officials say there are long lines throughout the state due to high turnout.
In response, the state Democratic Party sent a letter at 3:30 pm
to the Virginia state board of elections requesting that voters be allowed to vote by paper ballot. Those ballots could then be handed out to people on line, rather than requiring everyone to wait to go individually into a polling booth, thus speeding up the process. Democrats worry that voters will give up on voting after waiting for over an hour. And voters who do so—anyone who has to go to work, for example—are more likely to be Democrats. (Retirees vote mostly Republican, whereas low-wage hourly workers vote mostly Democratic.)
In addition to the pure logistical problem, there is the possibility that lines are being deliberately exacerbated by Republican poll watchers.
Terry McAuliffe, former chair of the Democratic National Committee and gubernatorial candidate in the 2009 Democratic gubernatorial primary, says that he is hearing from sources on the ground that the lines are being slowed down by Republican poll watchers who are demanding excessive proof, such as extra forms of identification, for many voters. This can damage turnout in two ways, says McAuliffe: lengthening the wait to vote and by making some voters fear their IDs will not pass muster. “It’s a deliberate attempt to slow the process,” says McAuliffe. “A lot of first-time voters don’t want to be intimidated.”
McAuliffe promises that Democrats will be aggressive about combatting voter disenfranchisement today. “I’m still sore over [the election of] 2000, but shame on us for letting it happen,” he says. McAuliffe also adds that local election officials should take more measures to prevent long lines in the first place. “Why not put more voting machines out? Why should people have to wait two hours to vote in America, the greatest democracy in the world?”
In Virginia many election procedures are unduly burdensome, according to McAuliffe. For example, a voter must sign an affidavit swearing that he or she will be out of the state on Election Day in order to get an absentee ballot. (Voting rights advocates favor allowing voters to vote by absentee ballot without giving a reason, and more vote by mail options in general.)
The Virginia state Democratic Party, however, is putting a positive spin on the long lines, saying they are a sign of strong turnout, particularly in important Democratic regions. “It’s a sign that people are excited,” says Brian Coy, a spokesman for the party.
For more swing state dispatches and voting rights updates, check out our Election Day live blog.