- The Washington Times - Thursday, October 30, 2008

Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder on Wednesday called for polling hours in Virginia to be extended next week - two days after a suit filed by the NAACP made a similar request and one day following Florida Gov. Charlie Crist’s order to extend early voting hours in his state.

“By all accounts, the presidential election of 2008 is expected to generate historic turnout, not only because of the significance of the race … but also due to the record increase in voter registration,” said Mr. Wilder, a Democrat.

Virginia polls are open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday. Mr. Wilder made his request to keep the polls open an additional three hours to Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, a Democrat, despite state officials saying a governor does not have authority to extend polling place hours in the state for this election.

“There’s no authority under [state] code to allow him to extend the election,” Kaine spokesman Gordon Hickey said.

A spokesman for the Virginia State Board of Elections said Tuesday only a federal court can issue such an order. In Florida, Mr. Crist, a Republican, issued an executive order extending times at early voting sites to 12 hours during weekdays and a combined 12 hours during the weekend.

Wilder spokesman Linwood Norman said the mayor wanted to make sure the state was ready to accommodate voters during the election, which is expected to have extremely high turnout. He said Mr. Wilder still would support having a court extend polling hours, and that the mayor tried unsuccessfully to contact Mr. Kaine Wednesday, but likely would try again Thursday morning.

“If it’s been done in Florida, it can be done in Virginia,” Mr. Norman said. “If it’s a request to be made in the courts, then that’s the procedure to be followed to get the hours extended.”

Meanwhile, a federal court in Richmond already has been asked to extend Election Day polling hours in some Virginia jurisdictions.

A lawsuit filed against state officials Monday by the Virginia State Conference NAACP and others states resources such as voting machines and poll workers — particularly in the cities of Norfolk, Richmond and Virginia Beach — are misallocated or deficient.

It also states the allotments will lead to the disenfranchisement of minority voters, though Mr. Kaine and elections officials say the state is prepared.

The complaint asks that the court require the three cities to allocate voting machines so voters wait no longer than 45 minutes to cast their ballots, provide voters with the option of using a paper ballot and extend polling place hours until 9 p.m.

Representatives for the plaintiffs and the office of Virginia Attorney General Robert F. McDonnell met for a settlement conference Wednesday, and a spokesman for the attorney general said no information was available Wednesday evening.

A motion hearing in the case was scheduled for 11 a.m. Thursday in U.S. District Court in Richmond.

The NAACP also is preparing a lawsuit challenging election preparations in battleground state of Pennsylvania. The suit could be filed as soon as Thursday, said NAACP spokeswoman Carla Sims.

Hilary Shelton, NAACP vice president for advocacy and director of the group’s Washington office, said the action was aimed at making sure black communities get enough resources to ensure unfettered access to the polls.

“We are watching Pennsylvania very closely. We are watching Georgia very closely,” he said. “We are watching North Carolina very closely as well.”

S.A. Miller contributed to this report.

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