Fairfax looks to resolve problems that plagued last year's elections

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Local,Virginia,Taylor Holland,Fairfax County

Fairfax County should replace some of its voting machines and hire more poll workers if it's going to avoid a repeat of the long waiting lines and other problems that plagued last November's election, a special commission recommended Tuesday.

The 26-member Bipartisan Election Process Improvement Commission, set up to specifically to study last year's election problems, made 50 recommendations to the Board of Supervisors on how to ensure that voters face fewer hassles when they show up at the polls.

More than 80 percent of the county's 1.1 million residents cast ballots during last year's election, county data shows, but the last vote was cast at 10:30 p.m., well after the scheduled 7 p.m. closing of precincts.

The commission concluded that delays were being caused in part by the large number of voters who opted to use a touch-screen machine instead of paper ballots. And the wait for those machines grew longer because the touch-screen machines occasionally need to be rebooted or they quit altogether. The Virginia General Assembly in 2003 actually banned the kind of touch-screen machines Fairfax uses because they were problematic, but the county was allowed to continue machines they already had until they break.

Fairfax officials now say the county needs to scrap the touch-screens and use optical scanners that electronically count paper ballots cast by residents. The change would mean voters would have to use paper ballots when voting.

"It is important that the county implement measures to reduce long lines, decrease wait times and streamline the election process in Fairfax County," said Board Chairwoman Sharon Bulova. "The commission has identified a variety of improvements and efficiencies to ensure access and convenience for voters in future elections."

Among its recommendations, the commission said the county should limit the number of bond issues it places on the ballot during presidential elections when voter turnout is at its highest. The county placed four bond issues totaling $185 million on the 2012 ballot for park, library and fire station improvements, as well as the construction of a levee to prevent flooding in Huntington.

The commission also recommended additional hiring and training -- and possibly more pay -- for the county's poll workers, additional signs at polling locations and the use of more spacious rooms to prevent voters from having to stand outside.

"These are all common sense suggestions that will improve the system," said Supervisor Pat Herrity, R-Springfield. "The good news is we've got three years to improve it before the next presidential election."

The county board is expected to vote on the changes in mid-April.

tholland@washingtonexaminer.com

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Taylor Holland

Staff writer
The Washington Examiner