Changes should make voting in Fairfax County easier in 2016

WASHINGTON — After voters encountered hours-long waits during the 2012 presidential election, the Fairfax County Electoral Board said Tuesday it has moved to follow all 57 recommendations from a bipartisan commission to keep the long lines from happening again.

“I think this report highlighted for us that even in Fairfax, we can be broken,” Supervisor Cathy Hudgins says of the commission’s recommendations.

Electoral Board Secretary Brian Schoeneman says equipment updates are necessary.

“One of the key findings of the bipartisan commission was the clear need to modernize voting equipment in Fairfax County,” he says.

The county has already rolled out electronic poll books for all precincts, and the board is finalizing a contract for new voting machines that would provide the county’s first fully integrated voting system, Schoeneman says.

“Our goal is to deploy this system beginning in November 2014. That is a very fast-moving, aggressive timeline, but we want to make sure that we give the voters in the county and all of our staff at least two years to be familiar with the equipment before the 2016 presidential race,” Schoeneman says.

The electoral board has also extended in-person absentee voting opportunities in hopes that it will reduce lines on election days and increase turnout.

Schoeneman says it has been easier to meet the recommendation for more election officers after the board increased the pay for the first time since 1998.

“We increased pay from $100 to $175 for election officers, and increased chief and assistant chief pay by $50, and we have noticed at least an increased retention … and we’re hoping that this will help us to recruit young people,” he says.

Several supervisors asked at Tuesday’s County Board meeting whether more can be done to communicate with voters — especially at sites with multiple precincts — or to allow voters to wait indoors.

“I was very disappointed in 2012, because I think there is only one thing that we do on this day, and that is to get people in to vote as conveniently as possible,” Hudgins says. She once served on the Electoral Board.

“I find this to be a time in our county in which we were broken. And I don’t think we needed the publicity that we had, in that we really discouraged people about voting in an election when we knew that there would be a very high voter turnout. And in the area that I’m in, it was really very unnecessary. And I felt very sorry for a lot of people who, really, were just having to endure,” she says.

Schoeneman, who says he stood in line for three hours himself in 2012, says there will be a push for more planning and communication in the future.

“The presidential commission which President Obama put together after the 2012 election recommended many of the same things that our bipartisan commission recommended, which is why I’m confident that we’re going to get it right next time. Because a lot of the issues that happened across Virginia and across the country happened here. And there are a lot of reasons for long lines, but at the end of the day, nobody should have to wait for more than half an hour to vote,” Schoeneman says.

He also apologized for the year-long wait for a response from the Electoral Board, pointing to the several elections that have happened since, including the nearly record-close race for attorney general that included a recount.

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