Touch Screen Voting 'Unreliable,' Commission Says
Electronic ballot scanning machines and other tools could make lines at the polls shorter, Fairfax County Election Commission says.
Last November, some voters reported long lines and wait times of more than three hours to cast their vote at the polls; some abandoned voting all together.
But some 50 recommendations from Fairfax County’s new election commission — many of them focused on technology that will speed up parts of the voting process — could solve the problem.
How quickly changes are made, though, depends on how much room officials can find in this year's budget to implement new programs in time for the next presidential election.
Among the recommendations in a report delivered Tuesday to the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors was using Electronic Polling Books (EPBs), which would streamline the check-in process for voters, reduce the number of necessary workers and allow residents to avoid waiting outside in chilly November temperatures.
About 46 of the county's 237 poll locations were still using paper poll books to check in voters last November, with two employees using each book at a time.
EPBs make it easier to search for names and get people through lines faster, the report said.
Kate Hanley, the commission’s co-chair, also suggested it would make voters more likely to stick around, as some residents reportedly left at the mere sight of long lines.
“Long slow lines are a barrier to voting, and barriers should be removed,” she said. “We know for sure that lines were too long in too many places.”
The commission, which Chairman Sharon Bulova formed in December 2012, also recommended officials make electronic scanning voting machines – which scan paper ballots – available countywide.
The commission argued the optical scanning machines were both faster and more reliable than the county’s touch-screen voting machines.
Virginia’s General Assembly placed restrictions on the touch-screen voting machines in 2007 because of performance issues, and the commission noted in ots report that vendor has since gone under.
“The [touch screen machines] are old and sometimes unreliable, taking time to reboot frequently or to get a replacement machine,” the report reads.
If electronically scanned paper ballots were made available in every polling place, lines would move more quickly, Hanley said.
Stu Mendelsohn, the commission's co-chair, said the county should rebrand the paper ballots at “electronically scanned ballots” to ensure that voters use them more frequently.
“They don’t want to vote on paper anymore because they’re afraid that they aren’t going to be counted right away,” he said.
Supervisor Jeff McKay (D-Lee) agreed residents needed to be made more aware of the paper ballot option.
“If everyone had voted that way that day, the lines probably could moved a lot quicker, but we have a lot of work to do educate people on what that means,” he said.
In a statement released after the report, Bulova said she was pleased with the commission’s work.
“The Commission has identified a variety of improvements and efficiencies to ensure access and convenience for voters in future elections,” she said.
The commission’s other recommendations included:
- A direct phone line to the registrar to report problems at polling places
- More training for poll workers
- Better coordination with schools to find rooms large enough to accommodate all voters.
Recommendations were referred to County Executive Ed Long for further examination.
Next steps with budget impacts are expected to come back to the Board by April.
Do you think the recommendations will help? How were wait times at your Vienna precinct? Tell us in the comments.