ACLU Asks Justice Department to Monitor Election Day in Virginia
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Civil Liberties Group Cites Suppression of Minority Voters in Chesterfield County
CHESTERFIELD COUNTY, VA — Citing a pattern of voter suppression, the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia today asked the U.S. Department of Justice to send federal election observers to Chesterfield County on Election Day, November 7, 2006.
In a letter to John Tanner, chief of the Justice Department’s voting rights section, ACLU of Virginia Executive Director Kent Willis cites four incidents over the last two years that, if repeated, could have an adverse impact on minority voters.
“Chesterfield seems to be Virginia’s number one trouble spot for irregular voting procedures,” said Willis. “Some, like the bizarre posting of armed guards at polling places two years ago, seem intentionally designed to intimidate minority voters. Others, like telling voters standing in line that they must have identification to vote, are simply more likely to have a negative impact on minority voters than others. Either way, the Justice Department ought to be present on Election Day in Chesterfield to ensure that racially fair procedures are in place.”
In addition to the 2004 incidents involving armed guards and misinforming voters that they must have identification, Willis also cites Registrar Lawrence C. Haake III’s refusal last year to count provisional ballots submitted by persons who had registered on time but whose applications were not processed in a timely manner, as well as an incident reported in the Richmond Times-Dispatch today in which Haake refused to issue an absentee ballot to a registered voter because the voter would not give out his Social Security Number.
“I cannot say with certainty that any of these incidents will repeat themselves in Chesterfield County on Election Day 2006,” Willis wrote. “Cumulatively, however, they indicate a jurisdiction that is generally hostile to fair voting practices and specifically likely to restrict voting procedures in a manner that disproportionately impacts minority voters.”
The full text of Willis’s letter appears below:
ACLU of Virginia
October 20, 2006
John Tanner, Chief of the Voting Rights Section
Civil Rights Division, U.S. Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, D.C. 20530
RE: Request for Federal Observers in Chesterfield, Virginia, on Election Day 2006
Dear Mr. Tanner,
I am writing to request that the U.S. Department of Justice send federal election observers to Chesterfield County on Election Day, November 7, 2006. My request stems from several recent incidents in Chesterfield indicating that officials there may implement voting procedures that will have an adverse impact on minority voters.
The incidents are as follows:
1) Posting of Armed Guards at Polling Places
In October 2004, Registrar Lawrence C. Haake III announced plans to place armed guards at every polling precinct in Chesterfield County on Election Day. Concerned that the armed guards — a certain reminder of tactics used to prevent African-Americans from voting in the past — would intimidate some minority voters, the ACLU of Virginia, the Virginia State Conference NAACP, the Virginia Muslim Coalition, and State Board of Elections objected to the plan. When Mr. Haake persisted, the U.S. Department of Justice sent federal observers to Chesterfield County on Election Day.
2) Misinforming Voters That They Must Be Carrying Identification
On Election Day, November 2, 2004, the ACLU of Virginia received complaints that poll workers in Chesterfield were advising voters that that they must be carrying identification in order to cast a ballot. This is contrary to Virginia law, which only requires that voters without identification sign an affirmation of identity before voting. Mr. Haake agreed to instruct poll workers not to require identification.
3) Refusing to Count Provisional Ballots Cast by Persons Who Registered On Time
Before the June 2005 primary elections, Mr. Haake announced that he would not count the provisional ballots of voters who had submitted registration applications at DMV or other state offices prior to the deadline for registration, but whose applications had not been forwarded to the Registrar in a timely manner. He only backed off after the ACLU of Virginia and the NAACP threatened to file a lawsuit.
4) Demanding Social Security Numbers before Issuing Absentee Ballots
Today, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reports that Mr. Haake turned down a request for an absentee ballot from a voter who refused to give the Registrar his Social Security Number. The State Board of Elections has warned Mr. Haake that registered voters cannot be made to reveal their Social Security Numbers as a condition of voting.
I cannot say with certainty that any of these incidents will repeat themselves in Chesterfield on Election Day 2006. Cumulatively, however, they indicate a jurisdiction that is generally hostile to fair voting practices and specifically likely to restrict voting procedures in a manner that disproportionately impacts minority voters.
Again, I ask that you plan to send election observers to Chesterfield County, as you did in 2004. If you have any questions or would like additional information, please feel free to contact me at (804) 644-8080.
cc: Laughlin McDonald, Director, ACLU Voting Rights Project
Every month, you'll receive regular roundups of the most important civil rights and civil liberties developments. Remember: a well-informed citizenry is the best defense against tyranny.
The latest in Voting Rights
The American Civil Liberties Union is a nonprofit organization whose mission is to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Constitution and laws of the United States of America.
Learn More About Voting Rights
Voting is the cornerstone of our democracy and the fundamental right upon which all our civil liberties rest. The ACLU works to protect and expand Americansʼ freedom to vote.