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Va. Lawmakers Address Voting Irregularities On Election Day

Connolly proposes bill to expand early voting, voting machine access

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Residents waiting in a long line at a polling station in Silver Spring.
http://www.flickr.com/photos/cruffo/3002937208/
Residents waiting in a long line at a polling station in Silver Spring.

Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a forum Monday on voting problems in Woodbridge, Va. Voting experts testified along with citizens who were forced to wait in hours-long lines to vote on Election Day.

On Election Day, Reverend Sandra James was excited to take her 21-year-old daughter to cast her first ballot in Prince Williams County. They arrived around 7 a.m., preparing to wait, but never expecting it would take three and a half hours to cast a ballot.

"Went up and down the line, snaked down one corridor, back up another, down another, back up another," James says.

Reverend James says the line was harder on many other voters than it was on her.

"I was surprised because there were very pregnant women in line," James says. "There were people with small children laying on the floor. There were people on scooters and I thought there should have been some exception for them. I didn't see it because they were in the same line I was in."

People across Virginia reported issues with voting machines and long lines — some as long as four hours. Virginia Democrat Gerry Connolly believes that's unacceptable.

"I think it is a blot on the world's greatest and oldest democracy that the most sacred function we have in the democracy, the exercise of the right to vote, would in any way be impeded, delayed, curtailed, discouraged," Connolly says.

He says it's time the federal government steps in to help states smoothly administer elections. Connolly is pushing legislation that would provide federal money for uniform early voting periods and expansion of voting machines around the country. 

"We're trying to make it easier for people to vote, not harder," says Connolly. "We want a uniform early voting period, without the necessity of any kind of excuse, at least nine ... calendar days before the actual election date to take some pressure off that."

Connolly also wants to expand the use of voter machines through offering federal grants to locales to purchase new machines and provide backups in case any break down.

The minimum standard for voting machines in Virginia is 1 per every 750 voters. Experts say many machines currently in use can't service half that number. Prince William Supervisor Frank Principi says the House of Delegates and Governor Bob McDonnell also added to the confusion.

"New state identification requirements only confused voters more and added additional procedures for poll workers to deal with," Principi says.

Democrats want more voting machines, more locations and early voting, but incentives from the federal government come with price tags and this Congress is looking for programs to trim, not expand. Connolly says the few billion dollars — he couldn't provide a firm number — he wants to invest in elections are worth every penny.

"Whatever it costs, and it's not going to cost that much, it's well worth the investment. Otherwise we don't believe in ourselves," Connolly says.

Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) is pushing a similar bill in the upper chamber, but no Republicans have signed onto either.

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