Election officials in Fairfax County said yesterday that they have trained thousands of poll workers, tested and retested new voting machines and caught up on a backlog of absentee ballots -- and thus hope to oversee a smooth election Tuesday.
At a meeting of the Electoral Board, called in the wake of reports that the registrar's office was ill-prepared for Election Day, General Registrar Diane McIntyre said she brought in extra staff this week to file voter registrations and process a record number of absentee ballots.
She said her staff has received numerous calls since problems in the office were reported by the media. Some workers complained to the board about unanswered phones, inexperienced staff and unopened ballot applications as well as a failure to check new voter cards for accuracy. A majority of callers are not reporting problems, she said.
Although some voters have reported receiving inaccurate voter cards, McIntyre, a Republican, said they will not be disqualified from voting.
Asked whether she had set up a system to document glitches Tuesday, McIntyre said she has assigned three workers to record a sample of the types of problems that voters might encounter at the polls.
Also yesterday, Electoral Board Chairman Nancy Krakover accused McIntyre's critics of partisan attacks and asked the public to "please know that your interests are being faithfully executed." Krakover, a Republican, has defended McIntyre's performance, and both have dismissed criticism as a backlash from disgruntled workers. The other two board members, Larry Byrne and Margaret K. Luca, its secretary, are Democrats.
"To my other colleagues . . . I say I can look into your eyes, but I cannot look into your hearts. I don't know what motivates you," Krakover said.
She added that "a few complaints" have "captured headlines" and ignored the hard work of staff members who have processed tens of thousands of registrations for the presidential election.
Byrne said he was disappointed and "personally offended" to be told that concerns about whether the registrar had adequately prepared for the election were viewed as partisan. He also cited an overture Krakover made to part-time workers in the registrar's office Saturday to write to the board on McIntyre's behalf, calling it inappropriate.
Krakover said the workers reached out to her and so she encouraged them to write the letters. "They wanted me to see how smoothly things are running. They're valuable employees who work very hard."
Tuesday will be the first large-scale test of the touch-screen voting machines that debuted in last year's election, when turnout was 35 percent, compared with the 80 percent or higher that officials anticipate next week. The machines malfunctioned after the election, and, because of a software problem, results in some races were not known until 21 hours after the polls closed. Some voters also had trouble understanding how the machines worked.
Luca said yesterday that the glitches have been fixed, and she assured her colleagues that many voters had since been trained to use them at community meetings.
"We've brought the machines to 100 places," she said.
Today is the deadline to apply for absentee ballots, although it is possible to cast absentee votes in person until 5 p.m. Saturday. As of yesterday, Fairfax had sent out 46,012 absentee ballots. In 2000, the number was 35,878. "We thought that was astronomical, and we're not even near the end," Luca said.
The board also appointed several hundred election officials, bringing the number to 2,886, with a goal of 3,000.
County employees have been encouraged to take administrative leave to work at the polls.