From rolling out new voting equipment to trying to reach out to the county’s diverse population, Fairfax County election officials are busy making final preparations for Tuesday’s elections.
Nov. 5 is the first general election to take place since a panel recommended a slate of changes aimed at reducing delays for voters on Election Day, particularly during high-turnout presidential election years.
While the recommendations have not been fully implemented, voters may notice a few small changes since the presidential election in November 2012, said General Registrar Cameron Quinn.
There will now be electronic poll books in every precinct. Electronic poll books are more accurate and make it easier to find voters through a variety of search options, Quinn said, reducing the likelihood that a voter will be missed and have to vote provisionally.
With the printed books, “sometimes people would just miss a name,” she said.
Election officers have also been provided additional training about how to reassure voters who are reluctant to vote on the electronically scanned paper ballots, rather than the touch-screen voting machines.
That was the source of some of the delays during the presidential election, the Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission found, as some voters waited in longer lines to use the limited number of touch-screen voting machines, possibly because of confusion about how the paper ballots are tallied. Once voters fill the ballots out, they are immediately scanned and tallied at the precinct.
Because of state law changes, the county has not been able to replace its touch-screen machines and only maintains a small number in order to comply with accessibility requirements.
“We are having higher instances of machine breakdowns because the equipment is aging,” Quinn said.
During the June primaries, most voters were willing to use the electronically scanned ballots once the poll workers explained it to them, Quinn said.
Following this election cycle, the county will be testing and ultimately purchasing new voting equipment, including a different type of machine to assist people with disabilities or other special needs.
The biggest annual challenge for the county’s elections staff is recruiting a sufficient number of election officers and, in particular, recruiting officers who reflect the county’s diversity, Quinn said.
About 30 percent of the election officers are over age 70 and only 15 percent are under age 50, Quinn said, meaning that they lose large numbers of volunteers each year who are no longer able to handle the long hours of Election Day.
This year’s recruitment efforts have gone well, and the county is closer than in past elections to reaching its recruitment goals, Quinn said. They need about 2,200 inside precincts to be fully staffed and prefer to recruit and train 2,500 to 2,600, to ensure that there are sufficient numbers to cover those who can’t make it at the last minute.
Pay for election officers this year was increased from $100 to $175, which was enough to make the job a bit more appealing to certain people, like George Mason University students, Quinn said.
The county has also been doing outreach specifically seeking bilingual election officers to assist in certain pockets of the county. They had been focusing on Spanish-speakers at first and this year they did targeted outreach to Korean communities.
The county has also started providing translated versions of some voter information materials, such as basic information about voter registration, absentee voting and how to find your polling place.
“We’re working on identifying and reaching out to all of these micro-communities,” Quinn said.