Civil liberties group says many voters won’t show if police are present

The ACLU of Virginia today asked the Chesterfield County registrar to withdraw a plan to post armed, uniformed police officers at the County’s 62 polling places on Election Day. The ACLU says that the police presence--a reminder of when armed government officials were used to prevent minorities from voting--will intimidate many potential voters, causing them to avoid the polls.
In a letter to Chesterfield County registrar Lawrence C. Haake, III, ACLU of Virginia executive director Kent Willis suggests that polls can be secured without a conspicuous police presence. Willis recommends that Chesterfield places more police officers on duty and creates special communication hotlines between police and poll personnel, but that it not station officers outside polling places.
Willis points to directives from both the Virginia Board of Elections and the U.S. Office of Homeland Security, advising local election officials to balance security concerns and voter access. Fairfax County, for one, has specifically rejected the presence of uniformed officers because of the potential for voter intimidation, favoring a variety of less obtrusive ways to maintain security.
“While we all appreciate the work of the police, we also tend to be intimidated by them,” said Willis. “If we don’t have to turn our polling places into armed guardhouses, we shouldn’t. There are many ways to secure the polls without posting police officers out front.”
“You may want to increase the number of officers on duty and to have those officers pay close attention to polling places during their patrols,” writes Willis in his letter to Haake. “You may wish to train poll workers to be more observant as to possible terrorist threats. You may wish to create emergency communication lines between police and poll personnel. Some registrars have even suggested drawing up plans for moving polling places on short notice.”
“If procedures such as these are put in place for Election Day” the letter continues, “our polls will be made as secure as they reasonably can be, and we will avoid the intimidating presence--and ominous symbol-- of armed guards at the polls.”
A copy of Willis’s letter is found at http://acluva.org/wp-content/uploads/2009/12/20041021-Chesterfield-Police-at-the-Polls.pdf.

Contact: Kent Willis, Executive Direector, ACLU of Virginia, 804-644-8022

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