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Judge denies Dems’ request on poll watchers

FAIRFAX, Va. (AP) — A judge late Friday rejected a request from Fairfax County Democrats seeking an injunction that would have protected the right of their poll watchers to speak to voters.

Fairfax County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Smith rejected the request following a six-hour hearing in which two county election officers testified that the policies that were of concern to Democrats simply do not exist.

The county’s Democratic committee filed the lawsuit filed Wednesday, saying new policies implemented by the county’s Republican registrar bar Democratic and Republican poll watchers from addressing voters or walking through the voting area to witness the casting of provisional ballots.

Democrats said they need such access to ensure eligible voters can cast their ballots and are not unnecessarily forced to cast provisional ballots or, even worse, give up and decide not to vote at all. The Democrats’ lawyer, John Farrell, said 75 percent of provisional ballots are ultimately disallowed.

Republicans intervened in the lawsuit on the side of the county, saying they believe the poll watchers’ role is to be passive observers and they should not interject themselves into decisions about voters’ eligibility.

The stakes are magnified in Fairfax County, which has more than 1 million residents and is by far the largest jurisdiction in Virginia, a presidential battleground state.

Farrell estimated that in Fairfax County alone, anywhere from 4,700 to 9,500 disputes about voter eligibility may come up at the county’s 237 precincts on Election Day.

Two Democratic witnesses testified that they attended training sessions for election judges in which attendees were told to prohibit interaction of any kinds between voters and poll watchers. But two election officers, including Registrar Cameron Quinn, testified that no such policy has been implemented.

Smith said the election officers’ testimony persuaded him that an injunction is not warranted. But he warned that precinct judges cannot arbitrarily restrict poll watchers’ rights, and said he is ready to intervene on Election Day if necessary.

Even though he lost the request for an injunction, Farrell said he considered the suit a victory because both state and county elections officials testified under oath that no policy has been put in place to restrict poll watchers’ interactions with voters.

Brian Schoeneman, the Republicans’ lawyer, said he is also pleased with Smith’s ruling.

-By Matthew Barakat

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