In the end, even the Fairfax County judge deciding a last-minute lawsuit over the rights of poll watchers on Election Day wasn’t sure what the parties were fighting over. So Judge Dennis J. Smith declined late Friday night to issue an injunction that local Democrats had sought to address what they claimed was an illegal attempt by Republicans to limit party observers — and possibly votes — in Virginia’s biggest Democratic stronghold.
The decision came two days after the Fairfax County Democratic Committee filed a lawsuit against state and local election officials over what the committee says are new instructions being given to poll workers that election observers should not be allowed to move around or talk to voters inside polling places.
In the past, the Democrats say, no such restrictions have existed. The observers — often lawyers — couldn’t say anything about how voters should cast their ballots, but they could speak with them about their rights, and they wanted a judge to order that this election should be the same.
But in five hours of arguments and testimony Friday, the biggest disagreement wasn’t over whether such restrictions are lawful; it was over whether election officials were issuing such instructions. Witnesses for the Fairfax Democrats testified that they had observed training in which poll workers were told to categorically restrict party observers from interacting with voters. County election officials who administer the training testified that the Democrats’ witnesses were wrong and no such instruction was given.