New County Registrar Steers Clear of Politics
Thursday, November 3, 2005
Jacquelynne Harris, Fairfax County's new registrar, doesn't vote in primaries. And she won't reveal whether she's a Democrat, Republican or independent.
"I won't sign a petition either," she said, "or attend a political event," even though her job does not prohibit political activity.
In fact, local election officials across Virginia have traditionally been political appointees. But the county Electoral Board's decision to hire Harris represents a move toward professionalism in the job of preparing for elections.
Harris is the county's first nonpartisan registrar, a big change from the turbulent tenure of her predecessor, Diane McIntyre, a Republican who lost her job after the presidential election last year amid concerns over poor morale and her staff's lack of preparation for the election.
Harris, 44, was the top election official in Albemarle County before arriving in Fairfax in July. She was hired in Albemarle 14 years ago to do filing and data entry, then moved to the top job in 2000. Her other jobs have included budgets for nonprofit groups and restaurant management, an experience she says comes in handy in her current job: "They're both customer-service jobs. We're in the job of facilitating an election, not influencing it."
Harris and Board of Elections Secretary Margaret K. Luca said they are ready for Tuesday's election, which should be a relative breeze compared with last year, when tens of thousands of new voters were being added to the rolls. Electronic touch-screen voting machines have been in place for two years, and voters are getting used to them, officials said.
Harris has made a few changes, mostly to improve morale and clean up voter rolls, a challenge in a large and transient county.
Her employees now have the same job protections as other county workers, a change from their previous status as political appointees. The change was initiated by the Board of Elections "and I was glad to see that occur," Harris said. "The staff carries years and years of experience through many different [political] regimes."
A big challenge has been to determine the status of about 54,000 names that popped up on voter lists as inactive in the presidential election. About 29,000 names have now been removed, mostly people who moved away but whom the registrar's office had not tracked down. That leaves 611,183 voters on the list for next week's election -- 10 times the number registered in Albemarle County.
"I'm a big statistics keeper," Harris said.
Harris said she is considering deploying some of her staff at local Department of Motor Vehicle offices. Many voters register at the DMV, but their paperwork can get lost or delayed in getting processed, Harris said.