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Votes

Voting Glitch in Fairfax

Some machine malfunctions could fuel arguments for recount.

A glitch with some of the City of Fairfax’s voting machines on Election Day could raise questions during the expected recount pending for Virginia’s U.S. Senate race.

The touch screen WINVote machines were acting up, Tuesday, Nov. 7, said John Harold, the city’s general registrar. Less than half of a percent of voters reported the problem to officers of election at several precincts, specifically citing problems with the U.S. Senate box on the ballot. Less than half of a percent may not seem like much, but in a race where Sen. George Allen (R) trails by about 8,000 votes, it could mean a lot more.

Officers of election called the problem into Harold early on, and he immediately told officers in all of Fairfax’s seven precincts to alert voters to the problem. Reports indicated that when voters pushed the screen around the U.S. Senate box, the wrong candidate would light up. Harold said touching near the dividing line between the two was usually lighting up the opposite candidate. Election officers told voters to make sure to use their fingertips, and to notify them of any malfunctions they encountered.

“We’re instructing people to tap lightly under their candidate’s name,” said Sam Fisher, an officer of election at Daniels Run Elementary, precinct three. “We want to make sure each voter votes for the candidate they want; our goal is to help them do that.”

Harold called the WINVote manufacturers to report the glitch, and was told it was a calibration issue and couldn’t be immediately fixed. Outside of the touch screen issue, the voters are generally familiar with the machine since Fairfax has used them for three years now, said Dennis Egan, officer of election at Daniels Run Elementary, precinct three. And the turnout, said Egan, was tremendous.

“We’re much busier than usual for this type of election,” he said.

HAROLD WAS PLEASED with the turnout. More than 35 percent of the city’s registered voters had voted by 2 p.m., before the evening rush hour. When the polls closed, about 52 percent had voted, the same percentage reported for the state, not including numbers from precinct seven.

Scott Cook, chief officer of election at county precinct 118, Lake Braddock Secondary School, said voters came in steadily throughout the day. They were "swamped” between 6 a.m. and 8 a.m., he said. About 50 percent of registered voters in that precinct voted by about 6:30 p.m., and plenty more were still walking through the doors. Virginia Sen. Jeannemarie Devolites Davis (R-34), the wife of U.S. Rep. Tom Davis (R-11), was campaigning for her husband at Lake Braddock during the evening commute. She stood in the rain, alongside Supervisor Sharon Bulova (D-Braddock), Del. Dave Marsden (D-41) and Elizabeth Hurst, the wife of the U.S. House of Representatives Democratic candidate for the 11th District of Virginia, Andrew Hurst. Elizabeth Hurst stood outside of precinct 118 all day passing out literature for her husband. The couple has children who attend Lake Braddock, so she said she especially felt a connection to voters there.

“I hope he does well,” she said. “I know he did it right; he wasn’t negative.”

Several voters in the Braddock District and in Fairfax City said they came to the polls because they wanted a change in government, specifically because of the war in Iraq. Democrats now control the House of Representatives for the first time in 12 years, according to nationwide unofficial election results, showing that local voters’ views were echoed across the country.

“We have to go back to being the kind of country we used to be,” said Margaret Warren of Fairfax. “We need a change in Congress.”

Another key issue voters mentioned was the Virginia marriage amendment. While many Northern Virginians opposed the amendment, it passed overwhelmingly in the state.