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Votes

Elections Officials Prepare

Despite problems, registrar's office expects about half of the city's registered voters on Election Day.

Nobody wants to vote for the wrong candidate. That's one of the many reasons why Alexandria's eSlate voting machines have a summary page. After voters have selected all of the candidates, it's supposed to allow for a quick review before casting the ballot electronically.

But there's one glitch: The summary page has a limited number of characters. As a result, several of the candidates will not have all of their information displayed.

"It's only on the summary page," said Alexandria Registrar Tom Parkins. "I can't stress that enough. The ballot page will have all the information that voters need. The only area where voters will find truncated information is on the summary page."

Susan Kellom, chairwoman of the Alexandria Democratic Committee said that she was not concerned about the eSlate gremlins. She said she was confident that Democratic Senate candidate Jim Webb whose name appears on the ballot as "James H. 'Jim' Webb" will win against incumbent Republican Sen. George Allen, even if his name appears as James H. 'Jim' on the summary page.

"A vote for 'James H. 'Jim' is indeed a vote for Jim Webb," Kellom said. "It's regrettable, but it's not a fatal flaw. We hope that this will be fixed before the next election."

But Jim Hurysz, who is running as an independent candidate against incumbent Rep. Jim Moran (D-8), said that he was not confident that voters would be able to make informed choices with the flawed machinery.

"The voters are confused enough already," Hurysz said. "The problem with Alexandria's voting software is not acceptable to me and my campaign."

ELECTIONS OFFICIALS expect about 40,000 voters to make it to the polls on Nov. 7. That's a little more than half of the city's 76,440 registered voters. Parkins said that since 2004, the city has moved about 500 voters to 'inactive' status because postal records indicate that they have moved or voting records indicate that they have not voted in two successive elections.

"We don't see as much updating of people's voting registration during years when there's not a presidential race on the ballot," Parkins said. "But even people who have been moved to the 'inactive' list can vote."

He said that west-end voters should check to make sure which precinct they should report to because of recent changes to the precinct map. In June, City Council voted to follow the recommendation of the Alexandria Electoral Board and create new polling places at Cameron Station Community Center and St. James Methodist Church, adjusting the precinct boundaries for N.O.V.A. Arts Center, Tucker Elementary School, South Port Apartments and Beatley Library.

"State law requires the addition of a precinct or a change in precinct boundaries whenever the number of voters in any precinct for the presidential election exceeds 4,000," wrote City Manager Jim Hartmann in his recommendation for the creation of the new precincts. "During the 2004 presidential election, there were 3,653 voters at the Tucker School polling place and 3,314 voters at the N.O.V.A. Arts Center polling place. In light of recent growth, staff expects that the turnout in these precincts could exceed 4,000 during the 2008 presidential actions if action is not taken before that time."

THE HOTTEST RACE on the ticket is the contest between Allen and Webb, a match that brought national attention after Allen used a racial slur calling out to one of Webb's volunteers. Since then, Allen's re-election campaign has turned into a series of accusations and counter-accusations. This week, for example, Allen supporters criticized sexually explicit passages from Webb's novels while Webb's supporters called for Allen to release his divorce records. While discussing the race in Alexandria last month, political commentator Larry Sabato said that sometimes accusations are more important than facts.

"In politics, it's what people believe to be true that matters, not what's really true," said Sabato, director of the University of Virginia's Center for Politics. "Perception drives politics."

Back in 2000, Allen beat incumbent Democrat Sen. Chuck Robb in a statewide race by taking about 124,000 more votes. In the end, Allen had 52 percent of the electorate while Robb had 48 percent of Virginia voters. Yet the results were different in Alexandria, where Robb won more than 66 percent of the electorate with 36,107 votes while Allen took only 34 percent of the electorate with 18,624 votes.

"It's no secret that Alexandria has more Democrats than Republicans, and I wouldn't expect a dramatic change in this election," said Chris Marston, chairman of the Alexandria Republican City Committee. "I would expect Allen to perform somewhere in the mid-30s."

Connie Ring, a former chairman of the Alexandria City Republican Committee, said he expects to see a similar winning percentage for the Democratic Senate candidate this year in Alexandria. He also said that Republicans have had problems attracting voters in the city for many years.

"There were a couple of times when Republican statewide races were successful in Alexandria with candidates like Lywood Holton and John Warner. And at one time, we had nearly half of all the elected offices in the city." Ring said. "But in recent years, Republican candidates have tended to be more to the right. So independent voters have tended to vote with the Democratic candidate rather than a Republican candidates."