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Votes

Voters Faced with Choices

Every local seat up for election on Tuesday; computer voting debuts.

This year, voting will be a little different. Instead of sending voters into curtained booths to manually punch a ballot, the county is rolling out new touch screen machines which will make voting more user-friendly as well as make it easier to get results, said Maggie Luca, secretary of the electoral board.

"We think they'll be an improvement for the voters on election day," she said.

Voters won't stand behind a curtain to vote, she added, "but the machine is so small you can't see when anybody is voting. Your body basically blocks the machines."

The machines come with back-up batteries which will kick in if a polling place experiences a power failure. At the end of the day, results are tabulated "in a matter of seconds," Luca said.

But if the voting machines have changed, the races haven't. Just like four years ago, every single local seat is up for grabs on Nov. 4. Voters will have to pick from dozens of names in a handful of races, ranging from well-publicized contests such as the ones for board chairman, state delegate or senator to lower-profile races such as the one for Soil and Water Conservation District director.

The polls will be open from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday. Citizens can vote absentee in person at the Electoral Board's office in the Government Center until Saturday Nov. 1 at 5 p.m.

Following are brief summaries of the offices up for election on Tuesday.

Chairman of the Board of Supervisors

* Mychele Brickner (R)

* Gerry Connolly (D)

The Chairman of the Board is elected at-large by every voter in the county. He or she presides over the twice-monthly board meetings and sets the agenda. Other than that, the chair has no special powers that other supervisors don't have but the position can be very influential. As the top elected official of the largest jurisdiction in the metropolitan area and of the state of Virginia, the chairman of the board is the public face of the county.

Current Board Chairman Kate Hanley (D) is stepping down after eight years as chairman to prepare her 2004 bid to unseat Jim Moran (D-8) in the U.S. House of Representatives.

Whoever wins the chairman’s race inherits one of the nation's most affluent counties but also one that is plagued by high real estate taxes and transportation gridlock that have caused frustration among voters.

Brickner has criticized Connolly for presiding over what she calls a 53 percent real estate tax increase while doing little to relieve congestion.

Connolly says he is committed to tax relief but doesn't want to jeopardize that county's services. He has called Brickner an "extremist" conservative whose views don't align with the majority of the county.

Those challenges make this one of the area's most hotly-contested races.

"It's the biggest race in Fairfax County," said Brickner.

Connolly, for his part, likes to say that this race is "about the heart and soul of Fairfax County."

District Supervisor

Along with the chairman of the board, voters in each of the nine magisterial districts will also pick their local district supervisor. Together, the Board of Supervisors is responsible mainly for adopting the county's $2.5 billion budget, setting the real estate tax rate and making decisions on land use. This year, three supervisors are unopposed: Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), Dana Kauffman (D-Lee) and Elaine McConnell (R-Springfield). Dranesville District Supervisor Stuart Mendelsohn (R) is stepping down leaving an open seat that is being disputed by Joan Dubois (R) and John Foust (D). Providence Supervisor Gerry Connolly (D) is also not seeking reelection in order to make his run for chairman. Linda Smyth (D) and Jim Hyland (R) are competing to replace him.

In other contested races, Georgette Kohler (D) is challenging incumbent Michael Frey (R), Purvis Dawson (R) is running against Gerry Hyland (D) and Doug Bushee (R) is vying to unseat Catherine Hudgins (D).

As in the chairman's race, taxes, county spending and transportation are major issues in the local supervisor races.

County Sheriff

*Stan Barry (D)

*James Vickery (R)

The sheriff oversees a force of about 550 deputies charged with running the county jail, providing courtroom security and is responsible for civil enforcement. This year, James Vickery is trying to unseat Sheriff Stan Barry, who is looking for his second term. Vickery and Barry joined the department over 20 years ago and were friends and roommates when they started. But their friendship soured when Barry beat former sheriff Carl Peed (R) in 1999. Vickery was Peed's second in command.

This time, Vickery has focused on Barry's campaign contributions from deputies, saying that the deputies who work in the Sheriff's Office should not get involved in the politics of the race. Barry has said there is nothing inappropriate about accepting donations from deputies and that deputies who gave to him have not been treated differently from the ones who did not.

GENERAL ASSEMBLY

Voters will pick one state senator and one state delegate to represent them in the General Assembly in Richmond this November. Senators are elected every four years and delegates every two. They are responsible for drafting state laws as well as producing a balanced state budget. In the next few years, the state's economic situation will make it difficult to propose a budget that maintains into essential state service without raising taxes.

Gov. Mark Warner (D) has also said he is committed to tax reform in Virginia. A General Assembly commission is working on proposals to change the state's tax structure. Any tax reform bill would generate intense discussion in next year's session. Some of the more conservative candidates have said that any tax reform ought to be revenue neutral. Moderate Republicans and Democrats, and many local officials hope that restructuring will give localities a broader tax base so they can relieve pressure on real estate taxes.

Soil and Water Conservation District Board

* Sally Ormsby (incumbent)

* Dewey Bond (incumbent)

* Greg Evans (incumbent)

* David Bulova

* Jeremy Good

The Soil and Water Conservation District Board helps landowners with drainage problems on their land, monitors water quality in the county's streams, restores stream banks that have been hurt by erosion, offers information sessions on the environment to students and lobbies for more conservation funding from state and local governments. This year, voters will vote for three candidates to be the elected members of the board.

COMMONWEALTH'S ATTORNEY

* Robert Horan (D)

The Commonwealth's Attorney is the state's chief prosecutor in Fairfax County. Robert Horan, who has held the position since the 1960s, is running unopposed. He is set to prosecute the case of teenage sniper suspect Lee Boyd Malvo starting Nov. 10 in Chesapeake, Va.