Fairfax County's Electoral Board has scheduled a special meeting next week in part to determine whether the registrar is properly processing new voter cards and absentee ballot requests and answering a deluge of calls in the days before the presidential election.
Wednesday's meeting was hastily arranged after elections officials, the registrar's staff and at least one county supervisor reported errors in voter identification cards or complaints that residents have not received them.
"People are calling with inaccurate voter registration cards," said Larry E. Byrne, a member of the three-person electoral board. "Names and other information is misspelled, and they want to know if they will be thrown out of the polls."
Such errors should not disqualify anyone from casting a ballot Nov. 2. But some officials and workers are concerned that confusion and delays could occur if large numbers of voters need to fill out forms to correct their names or addresses or wait for poll workers to verify personal information.
Any disarray could magnify problems in an already complex election in Washington's largest suburb, where as many as 50,000 voters have been added to the rolls since 2000 and turnout could exceed 80 percent. Elections officials are scrambling to find and train enough poll workers, including those who speak Korean, Spanish and Vietnamese.
Registrar Diane McIntyre, facing criticism from some board members about falling behind, expressed confidence yesterday that her office is running smoothly. Volunteers are helping with a backlog of filing, and the staff has caught up on its effort to process absentee ballots, she said. Since a Washington Post article Sunday reported that the staff was struggling to keep up with its workload and failing to check new voter cards for accuracy, "we've gotten a heck of a lot of calls and e-mails from people asking if they're registered," McIntyre said. "We tell them, 'Yes, you are. Thank you.' "
In all, she said, she is aware of about 10 voters who reported incorrect information on their cards. McIntyre, a Republican, has said the criticism is the result of partisan politics. Two Democrats, including Byrne, and one Republican serve on the electoral board.
But interviews with five office employees indicate that callers have waited on hold for long stretches and grown exasperated. Dozens of residents have reported inaccurate names or addresses on their voter cards. Others had not received cards or absentee ballot applications they requested weeks ago, the workers said.
One would-be voter, Ayesha Ayubi, said she has been calling the registrar's office for more than a month to confirm whether a change of address notification she sent in August had been processed. This week, she said, she was told she would not be able to vote.
Ayubi said she called the office five times between early September and this week to ask whether her address change went through, but workers could locate only her old address in Alexandria, not her new one in Lorton. "They kept saying, 'Give us time, we'll find it,' because they had so many people registering," Ayubi, 27, an immigrant from Afghanistan, said yesterday. On Tuesday, she was told she could not vote because the registration deadline and the grace period for voting in an old polling station had passed.
"I watched all the debates and feel this election is very important," she said.
McIntyre said that Ayubi's old address is still in the system but that she is not sure why. She suggested that because Ayubi had filled out the change of address form at a motor vehicle office, it may have been delayed in going from Richmond to Fairfax.
Supervisor Gerald W. Hyland (D-Mount Vernon) said he received four calls early this week from voters who could not get through to the registrar's office. One was a military officer who wanted to vote by absentee ballot before he returned to Iraq on Wednesday.
"The real issue is, whatever your question is, if you want to vote and you call the registrar's office, you should be able to talk to a live person," Hyland said.
McIntyre said she has arranged for extra phone lines and computers on Election Day. But she said she believes there is enough staff to answer the phones beforehand.
Byrne said the board plans to appoint elections officers, discuss how the county's new touch-screen voting machines are working and take care of other Election Day logistics. But he said the concerns of some workers in the registrar's office, and their decision to publicize them, would also be on the agenda. "Clearly this causes a level of concern," he said.
Byrne said he is investigating what he believes was a retaliatory action by McIntyre to demote an employee who criticized the registrar in a newspaper interview. McIntyre denied that the job change was retaliatory and said the worker is doing clerical work because of a need in the office.