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Spotsy voting issues explained



Date published: 11/28/2012

BY JEFF BRANSCOME

Spotsylvania County election officials on Tuesday evening gave their first public explanation of voting problems and long lines during the Nov. 6 presidential election.

Alan Branfman, vice chairman of Spotsylvania's three-member Electoral Board, called the volunteers who work at the precincts "patriots" and said they do their best. "So if there's any question of blame these are our people, and we stand behind our people," he said. "It's better to learn from other people's mistakes, but we learn from our mistakes as well."

Rod Reed, secretary of the Electoral Board, said 58,000 Spotsylvania residents voted, or about 4,000 more than in the 2008 presidential election. In 2008, he said, most polling places were "ghost towns" after 10 a.m. But turnout was heavy all day this year, and he didn't anticipate that. "That was a misjudgment on my part," Reed said.

The Electoral Board addressed the county Board of Supervisors at the request of Supervisor Gary Skinner, who represents the Lee Hill District, where many of the problems occurred.

In addition to long lines, 152 residents voted in the wrong congressional district at the Lee Hill Elementary School and Summit precincts, the Electoral Board said yesterday. That's because officials accidently set up all of the touch-screen voting machines at those polling places for one congressional district. The precincts should have had machines for both the 1st and 7th districts.

Two voters noticed the problems in the morning, and county election officials had to bring additional voting machines to both precincts. People who voted in the wrong district had their congressional votes thrown out, though their ballots were counted in the presidential race and the U.S. Senate race. Spotsylvania had six split precincts.

Spotsylvania Registrar Kellie Acors said her office plans to implement new training for election volunteers manning split precincts. She also plans to provide training to chief election officials to better communicate with voters in long lines.

Skinner, however, said he thinks the county needs more voting machines and paid volunteers. The county has 154 machines. He also mentioned the possibility of adding to the county's 26 polling places--18 of which are at schools.

Electoral Board Chairman David Jones said it's difficult to find volunteers willing to work long days with minimal pay. They make from $165 to $185 per day. "We don't turn people away to work Election Day," said Jones, who said the county hired more than 300 volunteers this year.

Skinner said he thinks more people would volunteer if they knew they would be paid. Reed said more volunteers at polling places would help and that the Electoral Board would look into that.

Branfman said some election volunteers had to chase down people who never pushed the "vote" buttons on the voting machines. "These are things that money can't solve."

Reed did say he thinks the county will need new machines for the 2016 presidential election.

Jeff Branscome: 540/374-5402
Email: jbranscome@freelancestar.com