Tuesday, November 4, 2008

VIRGINIA: Organizing Prevents Voter Suppression

We were hearing a lot of alarming news reports about problems with long lines, machine malfunctions, and dirty tricks in Virginia. So, I contacted Joe Szakos, Director of the Virginia Organizing Project, to get the real story and find out how bad things really are. I have to admit that I was hoping for disaster, but it turns out that things really aren’t as bad as SOME IN the media would like us to believe – thanks to smart organizing by a coalition of 13 organizations across the state, working with a team of lawyers.

“Honestly, the reports of polling site problems and voter suppression are overblown,” Joe told me. “Things certainly haven’t been perfect, but a lot of work was done in advance to make sure Election Day wasn’t a disaster in the Commonwealth.”

Joe says that the concerns about long lines at polling sites are real. The lines are very long; some reports say that people have 5-hour waits ahead of them, but that’s only in a few places. In most places, people were in line for an hour at most. Also, anyone who is in line by 7:00 P.M. – the official closing time for the polls in Virginia – will be able to vote.

There have also been reports about machine malfunctions and machine shortages. However, a lot of groups organized to make sure that their local registrars planned for the increased turnout this election. For instance, in Charlottesville, they were using the electronic machines, but the local registrar – after discussions with local leaders – made sure that people also had the option to use the old-style paper ballots.

Joe told me that many of the stories about dirty tricks and concerns about student disenfranchisement were actually old news. For instance, there have been a lot of public service announcements and other communications in Virginia to make sure that people don’t fall for the fliers and robo-calls telling people to vote tomorrow.

“In a lot of ways it hasn’t been as bad as we thought it might be, so we are very relieved,” Joe told me. It’s encouraging to know that organizations around Virginia anticipated the problems and took action to ensure that there were plans in place to mitigate any potential obstacles to full voter participation.

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