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Fairfax County to Look at Election Day Efficiency

Chairman Sharon Bulova proposed the commission, which will address long lines and wait times.

The Fairfax County Board of Supervisors unanimously approved Tuesday forming a commission that will try to improve long lines and reduce wait times on Election Day.

In her request to the Board, Chairman Sharon Bulova said she wanted to address the county's efficiency during elections, a desire she made public earlier this month.

This year’s turnout in the county was 80.5 percent of registered voters, up from 78.7 percent in 2008. More than 529,000 people showed up to the polls, about 12,000 more than four years ago.

But officials say the higher turnout resulted in long waits at some poll locations. While some voters waited no more than 30 minutes at peak hours, the last vote in the county was cast at 10:30 p.m. — a wait of more than three hours for voters who were in line by the 7 p.m. cutoff.

Bulova said she was encouraged by the high turnout, but not by some of the severe lines.

"We will never know how many people gave up, and that is definitely not a good thing," she said in a statement.

The bipartisan commission will look into the number of voting machines at precincts, types of voting machines, the number of election workers at polling places, and the process by which those workers are approved.

Supervisor Pat Herrity ultimately supported the commission, but not before voicing a number of concerns.

His first was an outstanding lawsuit filed Oct. 31 by the Fairfax County Democratic Committee against state and local election officials over what the committee said were new restrictions on party observers in polling places.

The lawsuit claimed that party observers were being instructed not to speak to voters at polling places. In the past, they had been able to inform voters of their rights.

The county's new general registrar, Cameron Quinn, was named as a defendant in the suit.

Herrity said the lawsuit would likely prohibit electoral board staff from playing an active roll in the commission, thus limiting its effectiveness. He also said he was worried that the commission could be used as a discovery tool by the Democratic Committee’s legal team.

But John Foust said that there were problems that definitely needed fixing.

"There really were serious issues with this election," he said, noting that three-hour waits were extreme. "People have kids at home, they have kids to pick up at soccer practice."

Although the cost of such a commission remains to be seen, Supervisor Penny Gross said the Board had to be prepared for it to affect the budget.

Supervisors were instructed to bring the names of their appointees to the Dec. 4 board meeting. 

Dave Webster November 24, 2012 at 07:43 PM
I don't know what the economics are on purchasing machines, but it was my personal experience being a poll watcher that the electronic voting machines had a failure rate that was too high. At Dolley Madison Library one day, I saw two electronic voting machines that froze up and had to be restarted and one that had to be removed and replaced, all within a two hour time period. The optical scanners seemed to work well but I don't know what their failure rate is on misreading a voter's handwritten marks on a paper ballot. Maybe the Board of Supervisors can also lend a hand and slow down the rate at which we are borrowing money. All those bond issuance matters took up a lot of time as people were in the voting booths trying to figure out what they all meant. The Parks and Facilities Bonds language was 140 words by itself and was not a model of clarity. How about this wording instead: "Shall Fairfax County borrow $75,000,000, in addition to money it has borrowed in the past, by issuing investment bonds to pay for Parks operations and land acquisition?"

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