Election officials in the Washington area are preparing for high turnout and confusion at the polls Nov. 6 as voters adjust to shifted districts and new identification requirements.
Maryland and Virginia officials said they expect 70 to 80 percent of registered voters to cast ballots, based on the turnout for the 2008 general election. Many counties plan to expand the number of poll workers and voting locations to meet the demand, particularly for early and in-person absentee voting.
But congressional redistricting and a new voter-identification law in Virginia could complicate matters if people try to cast ballots at the wrong precinct or do not show valid identification, Prince William County General Registrar Betty Weimer said.
General Registrar Linda Lindberg said that Arlington County poll workers are undergoing more training to handle identification questions, expecting more than 25,000 in-person absentee voters — which would be the state’s highest percentage of pre-Election Day voting ever.
Virginia’s new law, intended to prevent fraud, requires each person to show identification, a government check or utility bill being among the acceptable forms. Voters without identification will be allowed to cast provisional ballots, which would be counted after they submit proof of identification.
However, voters who moved within Virginia before Nov. 4, 2008, and are no longer in the same congressional or legislative district will not be allowed to cast ballots if their registered address is outdated — identification provided or not.
These voters must update their addresses on their registrations by Oct. 15 to be eligible to vote Nov. 6, Fairfax County Deputy Registrar Gary Scott said. This could affect more than 600,000 inactive voters in Virginia, according to State Board of Elections data.
“Even if they’ve just moved within their precinct, if the congressional line has changed and it’s been more than a year, they could be out of luck,” Fairfax County General Registrar Cameron Quinn said. “There are over 77,000 inactive voters [in Fairfax County] . . . We know those people probably have moved and have not yet updated their voter registration address.”
Quinn also said that although Fairfax’s voting machines are older and may freeze, previous connection and time-out problems with check-in machines should now be fixed. In 2008, a malfunctioning voting machine delayed results of a close Board of Supervisors race when it incorrectly counted the number of votes for each candidate.
Personnel shortages may also pose problems for some counties. Loudoun County General Registrar Judy Brown said that if election officials cannot find more poll workers, most will have to double up on duties. Quinn said Fairfax still needs 500 to 800 more volunteers.
In Maryland, voters will decide several congressional races as well as a half-dozen referendums, including on same-sex marriage, expanded gambling in the state and a new redistricting map that could give the state more Democratic seats in the U.S. House of Representatives. For instance, about 350,000 new voters from Montgomery and Frederick counties were redistricted into Republican Rep. Roscoe P. Bartlett’s 6th Congressional District, changing it from Maryland’s most Republican district to majority-Democratic.
Montgomery County will implement early voting for the first time in a presidential election year, which Board of Elections spokeswoman Marjorie Roher said would help lessen congestion on Election Day. She urged people to study the ballot before voting to speed up the process.
“Some of the questions that are on the ballot are questions that are going to reach the voter at the core basis of their moral standard, and they’re going to want to have a say in what the final outcome is,” Roher said. “As a result of anticipation for a high turnout, clearly we have to anticipate lines at the polling place.”
Each precinct will have extra greeters and election judges to assist with early voting, and voters may practice on sample ballots before using the machines.
Prince George’s County will also hold its first early voting for a presidential election but does not predict problems, despite forecasting voter turnout of about 80 percent, Board of Elections Deputy Administrator Daneen Banks said.
D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics Executive Director Cliff Tatum said he expects turnout of 60 percent or higher and plans to deploy about 1,700 poll workers with extra paper ballots on hand for each precinct.
A two-sided paper ballot will be used in the District this year, but Tatum said that “vote both sides” is clearly marked and that the change should not cause issues.
In the 2008 D.C. election, a glitch in touch-screen voting machines created thousands of false write-in votes that led to inaccurate results. Electronics are not expected to pose a problem this year, Tatum said.
“We’ve since moved to a different election platform altogether, so we don’t anticipate seeing any technical issues that we can’t overcome,” Tatum said.