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Votes

Preparing for Election Day

Record turnout expected in 2004 elections.

Alexandria is preparing for record voter participation on Nov. 2. “Absentee voting is up from 4,236 in 2000 to what we are projecting to be at least 6,000 this year,” said Tom Parkins, Alexandria’s voter registrar. “Our registration is only up by three to four percent but that’s because registration in Alexandria is always high.”

Voters will use a new voting system, many of them for the first time. eSlate was used in this year’s primaries but will face its largest test next Tuesday. “Over ten thousand Alexandrians have practiced using the system at meetings of civic organizations, churches, community celebrations, candidate forums, at the Department of Motor Vehicles and at our office,” Parkins said. “We are confident that the system will work just fine and want to thank the League of Women Voters for all of their assistance in making sure that voters are comfortable with eSlate.”

VOTERS WHO have not seen eSlate before will have the opportunity to practice at the polls before they actually vote. There will be two demonstration units at each precinct and representatives to instruct them.

Voters will have few decisions to make this year. They will be asked to elect a congressional representative from Virginia’s Eighth District, choose a president and vice president and vote on two state constitutional questions. “We have experienced poll workers and expect everything to go smoothly,” Parkins said.

The police agree, despite all of the information about possible terrorist activity that has been discussed in recent weeks. “The Alexandria Police Department is committed to a smooth and uninterrupted election process, while at the same time balancing the need to address public safety concerns,” said Amy Bertsch, a spokesperson for the Police Department. “Plain clothes police officers will be present in the city designed to ensure a safe, orderly and uninterrupted election. Each polling location will be checked to ensure no threats or dangers are present prior to poll opening. This plain clothes detail, and the police watch commander will have telephone contact numbers to election officials at each polling location. Police staffing has been significantly increased on election day and will be available for response if needed.”

THOSE TERROR THREATS and other concerns prompted election officials to request the city’s public school system close schools on Election Day. There are 12 polling locations either inside public schools or in recreation centers that adjoin a school. Alexandria and Falls Church are the only jurisdictions in the region that will be open on Election Day.

“We have asked repeatedly and consistently for schools to be closed for general elections,” Parkins said. “We are very concerned that there will be adults in and out of the schools throughout the day. Also, there will be an increased number of cars in and around schools. We believe that this presents a danger to children and we wish to minimize that danger.”

The school system decided to remain open, saying that police did not have any information indicating the system should close. Betsch said that police made no recommendation about closing schools.

“I am very concerned,” said School Board member Kenneth Foran. “As an elected School Board member, I am a trustee for the school system and the children in it. I am very concerned about the safety of those children and believe that we should have closed the schools.”

Polls will open on Nov. 2 at 6 a.m. and will close at 7 p.m. Absentee voting will continue through Saturday, Oct. 30, at the office of the voter registrar, at 132 N. Royal Street, Suite 100. Absentee ballots that are mailed must be received in the office by the time the polls close on Election Day.