Pr. William County aims to improve Election Day for voters

Last year’s election in Prince William County was marked by long lines, understaffed precincts, a call for inquiries and officials’ vows to get it right next time.

Tuesday’s election for governor, attorney general and other statewide and local offices is not likely to draw anything like the historic turnout for the presidential race last year. The proposed fixes, though, are not in place, so election officials are taking some extra precautions to avoid problems at the polls.

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The turnout in Prince William in 2009 was 35 percent, a good barometer for what officials can expect Election Day, registrar Doug Geib said. It was about double that last year.

“We don't expect any issues,” Geib said.

But officials have placed more resources in key precincts that had problems last year, namely River Oaks in the Dumfries area, where the last voter cast a ballot at 10:45 p.m.

Also, eight precincts are receiving one extra voting machine and one or two extra election officers: Buckland Mills, Bennett, Alvey, Heritage Hunt, Mullen, Rockledge, Godwin and River Oaks.

“Once Election Day arrives, you live with what you plan for, but we feel like the planning has been done to alleviate the issues from last year,” Geib said.

A 16-member panel’s report, delivered this year, is being used as a template to improve elections countywide. The panel dismissed accusations of voter suppression — which some Democrats had claimed, given problems with voting in minority precincts — but said that substantial changes are needed.

It recommends that the county divide precincts with more than 4,000 voters, or about 20 of its 77 precincts. The report also recommends that the county buy new voting equipment by the 2015 election and ensure that it has enough poll workers.

The county has allocated $1.5 million for new voting machines over three years and additional money for more personnel. Geib said Prince William hopes to start getting the new machines in place next year and stage a mock election to test them.

Prince William Board of County Supervisors Chairman Corey A. Stewart (R-At Large) said last week that he expects no problems because the likely turnout is so low.

Harry W. Wiggins, chairman of the Prince William Democratic Committee and a critic of the way last year’s election procedures, said officials made the right call by waiting to make substantial changes to the voting process.

“They simply didn’t have time to do it,” he said.

 
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