Polling places lack resources, civil rights group says

ByABC News
October 8, 2008, 8:46 PM

— -- Polling places in six battleground states, including many with large minority populations, could be overwhelmed on Election Day because officials have not allocated enough voting stations, machines and poll workers, a study released Thursday by a civil rights group warns.

Using data from 28 local election offices, the Advancement Project says some precincts with large minority populations in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Missouri, Florida and Michigan could have long lines Nov. 4 unless they provide more machines, stations and staff. Faced with long waits, thousands of voters could give up and go home, the group says.

"There are disparities that need to be fixed," says Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project.

The problem, says Jon Greenbaum of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, is that many counties base allocations on past turnout, rather than current registration and future projections. This year, areas with large numbers of minorities and young people could see a greater increase in turnout because of the candidacy of Democratic nominee Barack Obama.

Most state and local election officials try to take registration trends into account as well as past turnout, says Doug Lewis, executive director of the Election Center, which represents those officials. But most machines are purchased far in advance, and only the wealthiest counties can afford to buy or rent more. "The past is no longer a good predictor of what may happen," he says.

The Advancement Project cites Virginia as the potential worst-case scenario. It says, for example, Richmond precincts with large minority populations have 20% more voters per machine than precincts with fewer minorities, and 26% in Alexandria. It has written to Virginia's chief elections officer requesting changes before Election Day.

The state doesn't take race into consideration but does look at recent registration trends, says Susan Pollard, spokeswoman for the state Board of Elections. Registration soared this year, and officials are still processing applications that arrived up to Monday's deadline. Counties can try to shift resources, but even if they don't, she says, the state's mandate of at least one machine for every 750 registered voters is being met.