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Va. groups complain about poll watcher training

Monday - 11/5/2012, 5:25pm  ET

NORFOLK, Va. - A coalition of voter advocacy groups has filed a complaint over a Texas-based organization's training manual for Virginia poll watchers.

Poll watchers are designees of independent candidates and political parties authorized to be at a polling location to watch for problems as voters check in.

According to the Virginian-Pilot ( http://bit.ly/SH430J), four organizations claimed in a written complaint last week that True the Vote's training manual for Virginia poll watchers is filled with misleading information about state election law. Those complaining include the left-leaning ProgressVA and Virginia New Majority, as well as Virginia Common Cause, the Advancement Project and the Fair Elections Legal Network.

True the Vote bills itself as nonpartisan but critics say it's a Tea Party offshoot.

The complaint was filed with the State Board of Elections, Virginia's attorney general and the U.S. attorneys assigned to the state. It highlights several allegedly erroneous passages in the 44-page booklet. The groups cite what they say is misleading information about poll closing times and imprecise wording on voter identification laws.

"Our concern with the guide is if it's not made explicitly clear what the law is in Virginia, it could hold up lines on Election Day and lead to voter confusion" and disruption, said Courtney Mills, a staff attorney with the Fair Elections Legal Network.

In a statement, True the Vote president Catherine Engelbrecht called the complaint a "last ditch" effort to keep citizens from exercising their rights as election observers. She also dismissed the complaints as trifles over layout and design, saying those with concerns about the training materials would do better to communicate directly with her organization.

Brian Gottstein, a spokesman for Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, told The Associated Press that local officers of elections have broad authority to maintain order at the polls and ensure that no qualified voter's attempt to cast a ballot is impeded. He said the attorney general does not have authority to investigate unless asked by the State Board of Elections, a local electoral board or a local prosecutor.

The State Board of Elections did not immediately respond to the AP's email and phone messages.

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Information from: The Virginian-Pilot, http://pilotonline.com


(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)