With close to 50,000 new voters registered for Tuesday's presidential election, county election officials said they are expecting some organized chaos at the polls, simply by virtue of a voter turnout that could exceed 80 percent.
To ease the burden on voters and poll workers, a new technology will be used to smooth out potential glitches: a hand-held computer loaded with key information on more than 600,000 Fairfax voters.
Poll workers will be able to look up the names, addresses, identification numbers, precincts and polling places for those who show up at the wrong locations, do not know whether they are registered or have inaccurate voter identification cards. They then can be redirected to the right place to vote.
With the device, poll workers will avoid a call to the registrar's office at the county Government Center, which is likely to be flooded with phone calls from voters who tend to prepare for an election at the last minute. On Election Day 2000, so many phone calls came in that the Government Center's system crashed briefly. Registrar Diane McIntyre said she has scheduled extra phone lines and computers for Election Day.
The on-site computers could cut down on those phone calls by half, if all goes smoothly, said Margaret K. Luca, secretary to the Electoral Board. Luca is overseeing the hand-held pilot program, which will put one mini-computer in each of Fairfax's 224 precincts.
"What we're trying to encourage the voter to do is to say upfront if they think they are not in the right place," Luca said. "Then we can figure it out and send them to that place."
Loudoun County also is debuting the hand-held computers. Fairfax and Loudoun got the idea from Virginia Beach, which has used them for several elections with good results, officials said.
In past elections, a voter who was in the wrong polling place or needed another glitch resolved could wait in line for a long stretch, or stand in the wrong line. On Tuesday, election officials plan to encourage voters who think they have a problem to get in a special line where a worker will be able to look up the voter's information on the computer.
The machine can read a driver's license or voter identification card once it is swiped. Then it issues a tape that types out the voter's polling place and precinct, including the address.
"We'll see what kind of review they get," Luca said.
The Electoral Board is renting the computers for $200 each from the Ferey Co., which manufactures voting equipment.