Election monitors call for extension of VA voting hours
Nick Juliano
Published: Tuesday November 4, 2008

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An election monitoring group is asking officials in Virginia to address reports of massive voting machine failures and voters being turned away from polls, and it may go to court if no action is taken.

Election Protection, a nonprofit group aimed at cataloging and correcting problems at the polls, says it has received more than 27,000 calls from voters since 5 a.m. Tuesday. Most problems have been reported in Pennsylvania, Virginia, New Jersey and Florida, representatives of the group said. Voters experiencing problems can report them by dialing 866-OUR-VOTE or 866-MY-VOTE1.

"We don’t want to be chicken little here,” said Jonah Goldman, who directs the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Campaign for Fair Elections. "What we’re trying to do is report what we’re seeing out in the field. Unfortunately this is what we expected.”

During a press conference Tuesday morning, group representatives said they were asking election officials in Virginia to extend voting by two hours. The group also wants election to ensure that paper ballots are available in precincts where electronic voting machines break down.

If elections officials fail to act, the group could file a lawsuit in federal court, but it hopes to avoid that option.

"We understand that litigation is a last and imperfect option," Goldberg said. "Our first priority is to try to solve these problems collectively.”

The NAACP sued unsuccessfully on Monday in an attempt to extend voting hours, and John McCain's presidential campaign filed a lawsuit seeking an extension for military members to return their ballots.

Election Protection hopes voters are not discouraged by long lines or other problems throughout the day Tuesday. Federal law allows voters who are in line at precincts before polls close to cast regular ballots.

If courts decide to extend voting hours, people who arrive at polling places after the polls would have closed have to cast provisional ballots.

Observers worry that voters in some areas are being given provisional ballots, instead of regular paper ballots. This creates the potential for disenfranchisement and complicates the process because provisional ballots are not counted along with the rest of the election results.

Another group, Info Voter Technologies, also is fielding reports of problems at polls. Its hotline has received more than 1,000 calls from Virginia since polls opened Tuesday.

Voters reported mechanical problems, long lines and some late-opening poll locations. One report to the group said 400 people were reported standing in line in Petersburg, VA.

Virginia's presidential elections have not been closely contested for a generation, and officials there seem unprepared to handle the massive influx of new voters. Elections officials need the resources they need to properly prepare ahead of time for large elections.

"The infrastructure of our elections isn’t really equipped to handle this kind of turnout,” Goldman said. "And that’s unfortunately the story you’ll hear from us in 2010 and 2012 if we don’t get serious about elections.”