Jurisdictions Need Many Volunteers To Run Polls for Nov. 6 Election

Robert Sparks and Margaret Luca checked over the provisional votes during the November 2006 election at the Fairfax Government Center.
Robert Sparks and Margaret Luca checked over the provisional votes during the November 2006 election at the Fairfax Government Center. (Gerald Martineau - The Washington Post)
By Bill Turque
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 18, 2007

Local governments in Northern Virginia are looking for a few good election officers.

State law requires at least three officers -- a chief and assistants representing the Republican and Democratic parties -- to open a polling place Election Day, which is Nov. 6.

As a practical matter, the long hours -- as early as 5 a.m., until about 9:30 p.m. -- require more people than that. County officials can usually rely on a cadre of regulars who work every election. But there is always turnover, and with training sessions getting underway this week, administrators are still seeking help.

Fairfax County needs about 2,200 volunteers to help run its 225 precincts, and Prince William County needs about 600 for its 64 polling locations. Arlington says it needs as many as 500 volunteers for a general election. Spanish-speaking volunteers are especially needed.

In Loudoun County, some volunteers are dropping out after the one-day training sessions.

"It's a whole lot more complicated than they thought," Loudoun County General Registrar Judy Brown said. "The more people we can talk into doing this, the better it will be."

Duties of election officers generally include setting up equipment, checking names against a master list of registered voters and tallying results. Officials must be registered Virginia voters and not hold elective office or work for someone who does. According to the Fairfax County Office of Elections Web site, election officers "must enjoy meeting people . . . be able to take direction, pay attention to detail and not be easily distracted."

There is pay. Loudoun and Fairfax offer $100 for the whole day, $50 for a half-day and $15 to attend the training session. Chief election officers make $200; assistant chiefs, $150. In Arlington, the pay is $130, with chiefs making $165 for the day.

Problems with election officials can have serious consequences. After the Vienna town elections in the spring, residents lodged complaints about the conduct of some longtime election officials, including at least one who was accused of interfering with voter decisions.

The complaints brought to light Vienna's unusual longtime method for selecting election officials. The Fairfax County Electoral Board submitted a list of qualified volunteers to longtime Town Clerk Carol A. Orndorff, a Town Council appointee. Orndorff culled the list and submitted it to the council for final approval.

Margaret K. Luca, secretary of the Fairfax County Electoral Board, acknowledged that the method was unusual and that the board directly assigned volunteers to the towns of Herndon and Clifton. Fairfax General Registrar Jackie C. Harris said the practice has ended.

Town officials "will not be insinuating themselves into the general election," Harris said.

Another election is scheduled for Feb. 12, the day of Virginia's presidential primary. A state and local primary will be June 10, and the general election is Nov. 4, 2008.

To work as an election official, call 703-228-3456 in Arlington, 703-324-4735 in Fairfax, 703-777-0548 in Loudoun and 703-792-6470 in Prince William.

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