Virginia 2012: Polling place ordeal at the most African American precinct in Prince William County

imageby Eric Byler

River Oaks Precinct is the most African American precinct, in the most diverse district, of the only majority minority county in Northern Virginia: Prince William County. On Nov. 6, 2012, the polling place at Potomac Middle School did not register its last vote until 10:45 pm, nearly four hours after polls officially close.

According to Woodbridge District Supervisor Frank Principi, Virginia law requires that one voting machine be assigned per 750 registered voters. By contrast, Maryland law requires one voting machine per 200 registered voters. This polling place did not appear to adhere to Virginia’s law, with only six voting machines and over 5,000 registered voters. Occoquan District Supervisor Michael May included in his post-election newsletter an official statement from the Prince William County Electoral Board. It reads in part, "We would like to make clear that The Office of Voter Registration and Elections has been fully funded by the Board of County Supervisors. No budget requests have been denied by the Board of County Supervisors."

LIKE My Facebook Page

Election officials told us that the lines had been long all day, and, many people were forced to brave the cold and for as many as five hours. As the sun fell and temperatures dropped, the entire line was moved inside by snaking it through the hallways of the middle school. We arrived shortly before the polls closed at 7 pm. We documented the events that took place between 7 pm and 11 pm.

The Romney campaign had a poll watcher there (he is the man in the three piece suit) at the end of the line. He made sure that no one got in line after 7 pm, which, was also the job of the Greg Jackson, the election officer who decided to go to the back of the line and go through the same ordeal as his neighbors. The Romney poll watcher was polite and professional, as was Mr. Jackson. By the end they seemed to have become friends.

By far the most memorable part of the night was the deep patriotism and civic heroism of the thousands of people who stood in line, some for more than four hours, to cast their vote. According to an Obama volunteer who was there from before the polls opened until after they closed, only 5 people gave up the entire day. Many voters had to come back more than two times because they could not find 3 or more hours in their day when they could be away from their jobs and families. The ordeal became a bonding experience for this community. Several African Americans mentioned the Civil Rights Movement, and the fact that many had fought and died for their right to vote. Although they were exhausted by the ordeal, they were not willing to give up that right. We asked one woman, who was an immigrant voting in her 4th presidential election whether this experience would deter her. She said absolutely not.

There was a 17-year-old African American man, who said he was a Republican, who spent the entire four hours looking after his mother, a Democrat, who would be casting her vote for President Obama. Each time the line moves, the young man carried the chair that his mother had been sitting upon a little bit closer to the polling place.

At River Oaks precinct, 2,826 votes were cast, 84% for President Obama. On his way to re-election, Obama won the commonwealth of Virginia by 100,499 votes, by a 50.57% to 47.85%.


Video by Eric Byler, Bobby Wagnerman, Michael Levin, Annabel Park

Music by Javier Suarez (jahzzar)