The Nov. 6 election is expected to run smoothly, local experts say, despite
concerns about fraud, possible voter intimidation and voter suppression.
Volunteers across Virginia -- a key battleground state -- have been gearing up to monitor precincts on Election Day. Some have expressed concerns that poll watchers trained by independent organizations will intimidate voters or cause delays. But area registrars and political observers don't expect problems, and they're not concerned about fraud either.
"I expect everything to go smoothly," said Gloucester Registrar Bobbi Morgan.
Morgan and other registrars said election officers have received training to handle any issues that may arise, including challenges to voters' identification.
"Election officers know what poll watchers are supposed to do," Hampton Registrar Theresa Kyle said.
True the Vote, a Texas-based organization that grew out of the Tea Party movement, has been recruiting residents across the commonwealth to work as poll watchers. Its founder, Catherine Engelbrecht, says her group is non-partisan and its focus is on election integrity.
But in recent months, True the Vote has received much scrutiny by The New York Times, ProPublica and other media outlets. True the Vote critics say its members' attempts to uncover fraud are actually veiled attempts to suppress minority voters likely to cast ballots for President Barack Obama.
Some have concerns that the state's new voter identification law could confuse voters and open doors for unjustifiable or discriminatory challenges by self-appointed poll watchers.
"What we should be focusing on is low voter registration and low voter turnout...not creating new laws that are expensive and create hoops for voters to jump through," said Lee Rowland, an attorney with the Brennan Center for Justice at the New York University School of Law. "We should be making it easier, not harder (to vote)."
The Brennan Center, a left-of-center think-tank and public interest law firm, focuses on voting rights and justice issues. Brennan attorneys have researched laws about voter challenges in 46 states. Virginia is one of 24 states that allows private citizens to question voters' eligibility at the precincts without documentation.
Rowland and others said fraud at the polls is not common, and actions to prevent fraud could be harmful.
"The real tragedy here is that hypothetical voter-impersonation fraud has been used to justify laws that restrict voting by real, eligible Americans," she said.
Jesse Richman, a political science professor at Old Dominion University, said he's not concerned about fraud either.
"It's really rare for fraud to be happening at active voting," he said.
Richman said he's aware of concerns about voter suppression, but he, like the registrars, thinks election officers are prepared to handle issues that arise. And he said members from both parties will help ensure it doesn't happen.
"There have been scattered efforts to disrupt the voter process and efforts to suppress.... Obviously those efforts are illegal and are fraudulent, and should not be done," he said. "If there are efforts at voter suppression...if it's not legitimate, there will be backlash. Both sides are so sensitive to the issue, the other side will be there in a heartbeat."
True the Vote would not reveal how many of their volunteers are in Hampton Roads, a spokesman said they've trained "thousands" across Virginia.
Engelbrecht said there is a tremendous need for poll workers to help uphold election integrity, and True the Vote volunteers will not suppress eligible voters.
"(Our) focus is observing the process, knowing your state's law, and making sure that's being followed," she said. "Repeated accusations that this should intimidate voters is intimidating voters."
U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, said he thinks more eyes at the polls -- including attorneys -- in addition to the state's "watered-down voter identification law," which allows multiple forms of identification, will prevent suppression.
"I don't think we'll have much to worry about," he said.
Lynn Gordon, president of the Virginia League of Women Voters, suggests everyone be aware of the identification requirements and bring the state-issued voter registration card, which was mailed to every registered voter in October. She also advises voters to discuss any questions or concerns directly with election officers.
"Don't listen to people who are trying to tell (you) otherwise," she said.
Distributed by MCT Information Services
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