Teaching About Elections

Teaching About Elections

Virginia Run's Carol Ann Coryell takes trip to Russia to teach about election process.

Carol Ann Coryell, 64, of Virginia Run just returned from a solo, 19-day trip to Russia where she gave non-stop talks to students on the nuts and bolts of running an election.

The former secretary of Fairfax County's Electoral Board — a full-time post she held for three years — Coryell was contacted by the U.S. State Department to be its election consultant.

"I was received very warmly by [the Russians]," she said. They have a great sense of humor. We started at 9 in the morning and ended at 8 p.m. It was a very hectic schedule."

She had stops in Moscow, Novosibirsk, St. Petersburg, Yekaterinburg, Pskov and Chelyabinsk.

"I felt like Moscow reminded me of New York City. St. Petersburg reminded me of Washington, D.C. with all of its history. Novosibirsk reminded me of the Boston area in the '40s and '50s," she said.

Using interpreters, she would speak to students for about a half hour about the American election process and then open up the floor for discussion. "They were really excited that I had come," she said. "Now will they change things? That I don't know."

Coryell contrasted a different electoral system where elections are done on paper ballots and the media is controlled by the government.

"Everyone is an automatic voter," she said. "The candidates must have at least 50 percent of the vote to win an election. If they don't, they have to hold the election again. It's a lot different from us."

In Russia, as many as 100 candidates can be running for the same office, she said. Using "black technology," some candidates bribe the public to vote for them — paying up to $500 for voters' signatures on petitions.

"They're at a different stage than we are," she said. "They've only had three presidents."

She added that young people don't want to upset their parents by voting opposite them, so they simply don't vote. Said Coryell: "They wanted to know what we do to get the young people to vote."

Wherever she went, the media followed her. Her visits were covered by Russian television, radio, newspapers and Urfo magazine.

Carol Ann, a registered nurse by trade (politics is her hobby), is married to Ritchie Coryell, 68, and they have three grown sons: Mark, 41, Heath, 40, and Matthew, 31. The couple has lived in Virginia Run since 1990.