Board Offers Pay Raise, Induces Registrar to Stay

Jacquelynne C. Harris, Fairfax County's election registrar, had said this month that she would not seek reappointment, noting job complexities and low pay.
Jacquelynne C. Harris, Fairfax County's election registrar, had said this month that she would not seek reappointment, noting job complexities and low pay. (By James M. Thresher -- The Washington Post)
By Amy Gardner
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, March 29, 2007

Fairfax County, faced with busy, back-to-back election seasons and the announcement by General Registrar Jacquelynne C. Harris that she was leaving, will pay to keep her.

The Fairfax County Electoral Board, with approval of the county's Board of Supervisors, reached agreement Tuesday with Harris, 45, on an annual salary of $105,000, retroactive to October.

Harris had told the board this month that she would not seek reappointment, citing the complexities of the job and saying its demands were too great for her to continue without an increase in her $93,411 annual salary.

"The industry is very challenging right now," Harris has said. "I work 16- and 17-hour days two months before every election. It's an incredible commitment of weekends and nights and 5-o'clock-in-the-mornings and all sorts of restrictions on my personal behavior. In the end, you have to look at its totality and say: 'Is this worth it?' "

Gerald E. Connolly, chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors, said earlier that he urged Harris to reconsider and persuaded the supervisors to authorize the Electoral Board to increase her pay. The county is facing the start of an election year in which 41 local and legislative races will be decided; Connolly also said he is looking ahead to 2008, a presidential election year.

"We are indeed coming up on a big year in '08," said Electoral Board Chairman Robert R. Sparks Jr. "We need her expertise and proven abilities, and that's why the county is interested in doing what it reasonably can to keep her."

The job has grown increasingly complex. Registrars must implement voting laws such as a state requirement that goes into effect July 1 mandating that all new voting machines use optical scan technology. They must know and follow federal rules that voting locations and machines allow people with disabilities, including the blind, the opportunity to vote in private. They must ensure that voting is secure. And they must monitor political groups seeking to challenge the voting rights of individuals.

They also must not appear partisan, Harris has said.

Harris's salary is set by state statute according to population size and location (Northern Virginia registrars earn a cost-of-living premium), but local governments are free to supplement that figure. Harris makes the same as two other Northern Virginia registrars -- in Prince William and Loudoun counties, which have populations that are one-third and one-fourth, respectively, the size of Fairfax.

Harris was making about $20,000 less than her counterpart in Montgomery County, the nearest comparably sized community.

Connolly said persuading Harris to stay would provide continuity during two busy election seasons and keep the Office of Elections on its new course of professionalism after years of political controversy. Before Harris's arrival from Albemarle County in July 2005, the Electoral Board had refused to reappoint her predecessor, against the advice of the Board of Supervisors. Subsequently, supervisors eliminated the local salary supplement for the secretary of the Electoral Board and replaced two of its three members.

By all accounts, Harris gets along with the Electoral Board, evidenced by its request for a salary supplement for her in the fall. The Board of Supervisors ignored the request.

Harris said her departure announcement was not intended as arm-twisting. Now was the right time to go because her term expires June 30, she said, and she wanted to give the Electoral Board time to replace her.

"She's extremely capable," Sparks said, adding that he would like to make Harris's salary comparable with that of her counterpart in Montgomery.

"The county was lucky to get her," he said, "and we would be even luckier to keep her."

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