A federal judge Monday denied a request for Virginia officials take steps to reduce waits at polling places attended by minority voters, while the campaign of Republican presidential candidate Sen. John McCain filed a last-minute lawsuit hoping to garner more military votes from overseas.
In a hearing in U.S. District Court in Richmond on a lawsuit filed last week by the Virginia State Conference NAACP and others, Judge Richard Williams denied the request that included extending voting hours and reallocating voting machines in Norfolk, Richmond and Virginia Beach.
The suit alleged minority voters will be disenfranchised by the state’s inadequate or uneven allotment of resources. But after listening to arguments from the plaintiffs’ attorney, the judge denied a motion for a preliminary injunction without even hearing from lawyers for the defendants, according to the Associated Press.
However, the AP said, the judge ordered the Virginia State Board of Elections to publicize the availability of curbside voting for older or disabled voters, along with the fact that people in line by 7 p.m. will be allowed to vote.
The Advancement Project, which filed the suit on behalf of the NAACP, said Judge Williams said state lawmakers upon returning for the 2009 General Assembly session should take up the issues of early voting and the requirement to have one voting machine per 750 voters.
“Virginia should have prepared better for this election,” the group said in a statement.
The elections board in a statement said it was pleased with the ruling.
“I think the judge sort of said the same thing that we’ve been saying, which is that we’ve done everything that we can within the constraints of the law,” said Delacey Skinner, a spokeswoman for Gov. Tim Kaine, Democrat.
The NAACP suit drew opposition from Virginia Republicans and was a legal maneuver that likely would have earned additional votes for Democratic candidate Sen. Barack Obama, a black Democrat who is heavily favored among minority voters.
The suit filed by Mr. McCain’s campaign against elections officials states Mr. McCain could lose votes from military members overseas who support the Vietnam War hero.
“There are many military service members and overseas voters who support Senator John McCain for president in the upcoming election and whose right to vote will be denied without relief from this court,” stated the complaint, also filed in U.S. District Court in Richmond.
The complaint states some Virginia localities did not send absentee ballots to overseas voters at least 45 days before the election, as recommended in 2004 by a congressionally created commission.
It names such jurisdictions as Arlington, Chesterfield and Fauquier counties and the cities of Richmond and Virginia Beach as areas that did not even receive ballots from the printer until late September.
The complaint cites the specific case of a Marine stationed in Iraq who did not receive his absentee ballot from Arlington County until Oct. 29. It asks that the court order absentee ballots for federal offices sent by Nov. 4 from qualified voters and received by Nov. 14 in the state to be counted.
“The McCain-Palin campaign believes without exception that the servicemen and women on the front line protecting our freedoms deserve every opportunity to make sure their vote counts,” McCain spokeswoman Gail Gitcho said.
It was not clear last night when the suit would be heard in court.
“Of course we want to make sure that all the absentee ballots that are coming in from overseas are counted,” Miss Skinner said. “We’ll comply with whatever order the judge gives on that.”