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Fairfax Election Process Improvement Commission Reports

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Fairfax’s bipartisan Commission on Election Process Improvement submitted its report to the County Board of Supervisors this week.   The Commission focused on the issue of long voter lines, a statewide problem which your Virginia General Assembly completely ignored this year.  One contributing factor to long lines was that more people voted in 2012 than in 2008, and fewer voted absentee.  More people voting is great, and  a change in the law to allow no-excuses early voting would avoid longer election day lines, but the bipartisan commission didn’t suggest any such changes.  It did, however, make a number of very positive and practical recommendations that don’t require General Assembly action.  Other localities (and indeed the Presidential Commission that is examining voting issues) should consider these recommendations.  They include:

  • Use electronic poll books (EPBs) in every precinct with hardware and software improvements – the report doesn’t specifically recommend more EPBs (and replacement EPBs), but precincts (not necessarily in Fairfax county), need more EPBs because that was a serous bottleneck last fall.
  • Maintain dedicated and secret phone lines so precinct election officers can contact the registrar to determine voter status – sure; it would be nice to have a number for voter protection attorneys to call as well.
  • Stop using electronic (Direct Recording Electronic, DRE) voting machines and move to electronically scanned (paper) ballots (ESBs) /optical scan machines, have more scanners, educate voters about the process and how the ballots work, have more privacy booths for voting, and set up a fund for ongoing purchases – I don’t really love the ESBs – in 2008, it rained and people dripped on the ballots and some machines couldn’t read them.  Seems like there should be a better way, but DREs aren’t it, so good riddance.
  • Don’t schedule referenda for presidential year elections – same could be said for the state and Constitutional amendments.  This might be a bit of an issue, because some people think that certain referenda may be more likely to pass in presidential years.  But it is certainly a concern and there are delays while voters consider referenda questions with which are not familiar.  How does it work in California?
  • Have more parking, bigger rooms, no parent-teacher conferences on election day, and use facilities where lines (including post-closing time lines) can be formed on the inside of the building – sure.
  • Make it easier for voters to find their precincts, including using a mobile app – yep.
  • Avoid having two precincts in the same building, but have clearer directions if you have two precincts.
  • Improve curbside voting – this is a big issue; poll workers are supposed to bring ballots to disabled voters, but with too few workers and too many voters, the process doesn’t work, and many people don’t even know it’s supposed to be an option.
  • Encourage absentee voting “for those eligible to do so”:  educate voters, encourage voters with disability to vote absentee in person prior to election day, increase size and privacy for absentee person in voting areas and treat satellite locations like precincts, increase voting hours, and have sufficient Office of Elections staff to handle absentee requests – good suggestions for making the most of the current rules on pre-election day voting.
  • Have more, better trained, better paid (maybe) election officials, with more language diversity – absolutely.
  • Improve the DMV voter registration process, including making lists of people who applied to register available, and improving notice to people whose registrations are not complete – way too many people show up on election day thinking that they have registered, when they are not on the rolls; we need to improve this process.

On a non-election law point, the Report notes that the turnout in Fairfax County for President Obama’s first election in 2008 was 78.7%.  In 2009, for the governor’s race, turnout was 44.6%.  That tells you all you need to know – when Virginians vote, Democrats win, and we need to turn them out in 2013.  (The 2012 total was 80.5%, even better than 2008.)

Here is the report, the commission’s web page, and a WaPo article.