RICHMOND, Va. — The NAACP on Friday resumed efforts to force Virginia to put more voting machines in minority polling places, setting up a court hearing 15 hours before voters head to polls in the battleground state.
The Virginia chapter of National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s will return to federal court on Monday afternoon to argue the state is inadequately prepared to handle an enormous voter surge expected Tuesday.
State Republicans plan to oppose the NAACP’s request on grounds that altering voting procedures on the eve of the election would be disruptive and could unfairly disadvantage their candidates.
Record turnout is expected as Democrat Barack Obama tries to win 13 electoral votes in state that has backed Republican presidential candidates since 1968. Obama would be the nation’s first black president if elected.
The NAACP alleged the state failed to provide enough voting machines to handle the crowds, particularly in majority black precincts. The lawsuit in U.S. District Court in Richmond asked for paper ballots to be provided as one option if lines got too long.
More than 436,000 new voters registered since Jan. 1, a 10 percent increase that pushed voter rolls past 5 million for the first time in Virginia, a state of 7.7 million residents. Much of the increase results from the Obama campaign’s aggressive registration drive.
At the close of the first fiercely contested presidential race in Virginia in generations, several polls show Obama slightly ahead.
The NAACP had withdrawn its request for a hearing on Thursday after receiving new information from state officials about the placement of election day resources. At the time, NAACP officials said a new hearing before the election was unlikely.
But after assessing the updated information, the NAACP concluded preparations were still insufficient and on Friday requested a new hearing.
“We went back and looked at the numbers, and it’s still the same old bad news. We’re still seeing disparities between black and white precincts,” said Ben Jealous, national NAACP president.
A spokeswoman for Gov. Timothy M. Kaine, a Democrat and Obama ally, said the administration was surprised to see the lawsuit renewed. She said state law gives the governor no authority to extend poll hours.
“We feel confident that we’ll be prepared,” spokeswoman Delacey Skinner said. “I think that voters who are going to the polls on election day should go early and be prepared for the line, but we’re not anticipating any kind of major problems.”
Several Virginia Republicans have filed to intervene in the lawsuit, arguing that last-second changes at selected precincts the NAACP seeks could give the Democrats an unfair advantage.
Cleta Mitchell, attorney for the Republican Party of Virginia, said the GOP particularly opposes a longer voting day and paper ballots at select polling places.
“You just can’t have a situation 24 hours before the election where you go to court and start rewriting state law,” she said.
Robert D. Holsworth, a professor of government and political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, said some of the steps the NAACP suit seeks, such as extending the poll closing time from 7 p.m. Tuesday to 9 p.m., might be possible on short notice. But an overnight shuffle of voting machines, he said, would be extremely difficult at best.
“The enthusiasm and interest in this election – that in itself has introduced the potential for chaos and confusion,” Holsworth said. “The substantial reallocation of resources at the last minute adds one more element of uncertainty.”